Friday, June 27, 2003

The old order passeth away...

"I want to tell you that there's not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches." -- A speech to 1948 States Rights convention

Strom Thurmond, retired US senator of South Carolina, died last night. He was 100 years old.

"Thurmond's unparalleled political career spanned eight decades, beginning with the Edgefield, school board in 1924. He served a term as South Carolina's governor, ran for president in 1948 to oppose civil rights, and won a Senate seat in 1954 as a write-in candidate. There he served 48 years, becoming the oldest and longest-serving senator in American history."

Thurmond was an icon of a way of life that was "the old South, a provincial gentility that brought a sense of cohesion to that class of people around whom it was created; that is to say, white Protestants of Anglo-Saxon origin. Alas, its ultimate downfall was that its preservation, by definition, was at the expense of another class of people; namely, those of African origin, most of whose ancestors were brought here for involuntary servitude, to uphold an economic structure that, in the end, could not have survived the rise of industrialism occuring in its very shadow.

For Thurmond, and those whom he represented, it may have been less the subjugation of one way of life, than it was the preservation of another. To do so for the betterment of all, however, is a classic feature of the American spirit, a criterion lost on its proponents in their desire to preserve the equally classic feature of state sovereignty. Before the American civil war, people would refer to our nation thus: "The United States are..." After that conflict, the reference was changed to read: "The United States is..." In the end, the refusal to subordinate one to the larger picture led to the demise of the other. Our nation survived the conflict that arose from this dilemma, but at a cost that historians still debate more than a century later.

There can never be another leader like Thurmond, for there can never again be a society that allows one class to flourish at the expense of another. In his later years, he made numerous overtures to the black community. Perhaps this was a form of atonement, or simply a mark of his ability to adapt to the changing politcal winds. But he will be remembered most of all, not for making amends, but for the abuse of power that required such amends to begin with.

May God have mercy on him -- indeed, upon us all.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

"Pride Goeth Before A Fall"

When you are in a position of authority, you are surrounded with those who will do your bidding. A little world is created for yourself. They like being in their position. They want to keep it. To that end, they strive to keep you where you are. In so doing, they too remain where they are.

This is all pretty reasonable. Until it all falls apart. And that starts with a lie.

Former First Lady Hilary Clinton has been touting her new book, in which she describes how her marriage with President Clinton endured. You don't have to work a couple of blocks from the White House to know the stories that came out of there over the years. Each time he erred, she believed him until he finally admitted otherwise. Or so she has said.

She had a lot to lose in believing otherwise. He was able to get away with anything. Sexual liaisons, lying to a grand jury right in front of an entire nation, you name it. Were she not to go along, her own ambitions would be at risk. So, as she looked in the mirror every day, she made little deals with herself, to explain it all away. Her ambitions endured. For now.

Who could touch them? Ours was the generation that would never grow old, that could misbehave and get away with it. We fooled ourselves, we voted them in again. All while they did things that even Nixon couldn't get away with. After all, Nixon wasn't one of us. More important than that, he didn't look nearly as good on television as... well, that other guy who fooled around on the road to the White House.

In previous entries, I have commented on the effects of addictive behavior, how I have seen it in my own life. That bar fight I narrowly missed over Memorial Day weekend (see entry entitled "Bullies and Empty Hands," dated Friday, May 30) was followed by no end of rationalizing by those who were there, those whom I still consider my friends. You can't expect to reason with anyone who claims not to remember something, that happened right in front of them the night before. After all, only they know what is in their heart. And only they know if they have made any bargains with themselves.

It is said that seven percent of Americans have some sort of addiction, nearly all of them to alcohol. And for every one of them, there is at least one spouse, parent, child, or somebody on the payroll, who will make excuses for that person. That could double or triple the percentage of people with the problem, directly or indirectly. Twenty-five percent, perhaps? That's one-fourth! (Shudder!)

For a long time, I didn't want to believe certain things about people who were close to me. But eventually, the bottom fell out, and I fell on my face. It is not difficult, then, to imagine what Thomas O'Brien went through in the final hours before he resigned his position as Bishop of Pheonix, as an article in the Arizona Republic shows us. After all, who wants to admit they just ran over somebody in a car. Respectable people just don't do those things. Only less savory types do those things.

Or do they?

We want to stand by our friends, even as we know their faults. Unfortunately, we cannot save them from themselves. We can excuse or explain them away indefinitely. But if their behavior is their undoing, they stand to take us right down with them. I've seen it happen before. I've read about it in the news of late. And so, dear reader, have you.

Even now, I have seen it among my own friends. What if that guy in the bar had beaten the crap out of me? Would anyone have cared? Would whomever put them up to it still come out of it smelling like a rose? Would it be worth the risk of bringing the party down, so to speak? I keep wondering. I may never know.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for our friends, is hold the mirror in front of them, and catch them before they try to bargain with themselves. Today's headlines should tell us something of the price of friendship. It should also tell us that, in the end, we have to be our own best friend before anyone else can. To do so may cost us every friend we have. But Christ did the same on this earth. He gave the straight story in the little synagouge in Nazareth. ("This scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.") The whole town, most of whom were probably his blood relatives, was ready to kill him. He gave the straight story in the sixth chapter of John, when he said he was the Bread of Life, and practically all of his followers left him. He gave himself up to the chief priests of the Sanhedrin, and those few who were left deserted him, even denied ever knowing him.

An abbess once told me: "I am rejected every day by one of my sisters, when I tell her to do something, and she refuses to do it." A parent is rejected by a child, every time he or she is disobeyed. I have rejected my Father in Heaven, every time I have sinned. Only His infinite love sustains my being with Him. Certainly nothing on my own part.

Small wonder, then, that pride is considered the worst of all sins. Because of it, even the mighty have fallen.

As we read the headlines in the weeks ahead, others are sure to fall. There, but for the grace of God, goes each and every one of us.
While I was out... seemed to go on without me.

I've been at a dance camp in West Virginia for the last several days. Looking at a collection of images from Buffalo Jam 2003, I don't appear much. But when I do... well, I could be wrong, but it looks like I'm still losing weight (the guy in the grey teeshirt, left of center). We can only hope. They put me in charge of the lighting of the pavillion this year. I arrived a day early to do most of it. I stayed up late Saturday night, till about 3 in the morning, passing the Irish whiskey around and playing with the musicians who came. They included some friends of mine with whom I jam whenever they're here. That was the best time of all.

I caught up with some folks I met in Seattle last December, giving them fair warning that I'd be there in August. I also made lots of new friends among both dancers and musicians. The former included reminiscing about the old days when I was on the dance gypsy circuit. The latter was a great opportunity to forge some new directions. I got invited by one of the dance instructors to visit Lafayette LA. I just may take them up on it over the holidays this year.

It rained most of the time until Saturday afternoon, so I didn't get to use my new inflatable kayak. We'll be hitting the beach soon enough though.

Come Sunday morning, I was nowhere near a church. So I got out my missal, set up a crucifix and candles, and read the prayers and readings of the Mass in the privacy of my cabin room. I had a hand-carved icon of the Madonna and Child made in Poland on the chest of drawers, my only decoration in the room (other than my Mom's quilt on the bed). I even had it covered with a garland of little white Christmas lights.

My last official act at the camp was to jump in the lake. Really. I got dressed again and got in the car, completely refreshed from diving headlong into the cold water, while heading back toward civilization as I know it.

Yesterday morning, I was totally whipped. I slept till noon, did some laundry, and caught up with my cousin Terri, in from Kansas for the annual American Nurses Association meeting. I have over forty cousins on my mother's side alone, and Terri's one of those with whom I keep in touch the most. We're about the same age, and she was my, uh, "date" for the Nathan Williams/CJ Chenier dance last night at the Birchmere. I trained her well, and she has very little trouble mixing with a crowd. Maybe we'll hit the Adams Morgan district tonight. I hope the police have settled down by then. They were all over the place last night. Could've been anything. Could've been nothing. This Nine Eleven thing has got them a little jumpy, know what I mean?

In the bigger picture, the American bishops met last week. From what little I read, between them and the press and the pundits and the various reform groups, there was the usual stumbling over one anothers. I put a lot of stock in whatever CWN reporter Philip Lawler has to say on the subject -- short and to the point. I'm still waiting to hear what they did about that liturgical dance thing. I'll bet they got right on that one. People tell me I have great legs, but the thought of fitting into a pair of tights... well, never mind. One good thing, though. At least they apologized to Mel Gibson.

Oh, and one more thing. My weblog turned one year old on the 21st of June.

Not that any one would notice. I have the disadvantage of not having established a reputation as a great thinker or writer or whatever outside the blogosphere. And I'm not a mad creative genius like Victor Lams. So I either make it or break it right here.

At least I haven't been sued yet. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Hobbits in Black Hats

For those who care to read offline, and live vicariously through the realm that is Middle Earth, I highly recommend the latest issue of Christian History. (Note: At this writing, the previous edition is listed as the "current" one online, but hey, kids, scroll down and check out that back issue on Aquinas, eh?) This magazine currently examines the life and work of Lord of the Rings author J R R Tolkien; including the inspiration behind Middle Earth and its characters, his Catholic faith, and his role in the conversion of C S Lewis. Readers will also learn of Tolkien's artistic skill with the brush and pen, which graced the covers and pages of his early editions, and his discovery late in life, during the turbulent 1960s, of an emerging American following.

We also see Tolkien placed in the larger role of great Christian authors of the last century -- the so-called "Christian Humanists."

But the article that has meant the most to me, is the one about his circle of friends who gathered at Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, a group known as "The Inklings." Lewis, who was also among their numbers, wrote of this gathering: "The fun is often so fast and furious that the company probably thinks we're talking bawdy when in fact we're very likely talking theology." I don't imagine walking into The Cat's Eye in Fells Point (Baltimore) anytime soon, and engaging my fellow seekers in a lively debate between Thomism and Human Personalism; I will have to be content with dancing the night away.

Then again, as a wise man once said: "You can't have everything; where would you put it?"

Still, it's always great fun to join such fellows as Peter Vere, Michael Rose, among others, as I have over the past, over a pint at an Irish pub. There we would engage in the sort of acquired humor with a touch of Chestertonian wit, laced with frequent bouts of veiled ribaldry and inside jokes, not to mention the inspiration for numerous attempts at the written word. Such camaraderie would surely come close to the experience the gentlemen of Oxford must have had back in their day.

It's also the best part about reading too much for one's own good.

I will be sure and pack this issue with me, in one of the few items of light reading I'll be taking to the Buffalo Jam in West Virginia tomorrow week, where I'll be disappearing for a few days to commune with other zydeco dance gypsies. I'll be offline until this time next week, but I'll be posting selections from my journal entries upon my return.

Till then...

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

(Update June 24: This link takes the reader to the editor's column on the Tolkien issue.)
The Feast of Fools

"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool [shall be] servant to the wise of heart." -- Proverbs 11:29

It is reported that Governor Keating has resigned from the panel of laymen appointed by the bishops' conference to oversee how they are handling the crisis of clerical sexual abuse:

"To obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organisation... My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology..."

Roger Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, called Keating's remarks "irresponsible and uninformed." Uh-huh.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone, Pheonix Bishop Thomas O'Brien, "...who recently admitted he let priests accused of sexual abuse work with children was arrested Monday on charges he fled the scene of a weekend accident in which a pedestrian was struck and killed."

There was a time when bishops would cover the actions of their priests in order to save themselves. More recently, they have been throwing the errant priests to the wolves to save themselves.

And now? Having thrown all the excess from the lifeboats, they are still sinking. Did anyone think to simply plug the damn hole?

To do that, you have to admit you're wrong. That's hard to do when you're always being told you're right. To live in a little world of artificial construct, surrounded by minions who tell you only what you want to hear, is a trap that has plagued leaders of the Church at one time or another. Up until now, some of them have exercised a form of damage control, adapting to the situation, in order to keep up appearances. This is nothing new, as we learn from an old English folk song about "The Vicar of Bray":

And this is law that I'll maintain
Until my dying day, Sir.
That whatsoever king may reign
Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!

At a weblog entitled The Inn at the End of the World, in an entry dated June 11, new words have been given to the old tune. All together now...

In great Pope Pius' golden days before the revolution
I swung my censer every week, I gave swift absolution
My music was Gregorian, on Holy Day and High Day
I knew my rubrics inside out, I ate no meat on Friday.

And this is law, I will maintain, until my dying day, Sir
That whatsoever Pope may reign, I still shall lead the way, Sir.

When Good Pope John assumed the throne and called his famous Council
As wise peritus I did serve, but kept the middle ground, Sir
Old principles I would uphold but change their application
And thus acquire a much-desired but fleeting reputation.

And this is law, etc.

I took the lone heroic course that all the world was taking
For medieval night was done, enlightened dawn was breaking
Denunciations old and stale, I said we should withdraw 'em
Of Rousseau, Marx and those who fill the Syllabus Errorum.

And this is law, etc.

In Paul the Sixth's betroubled reign, an age of contradiction
The all-renewing Council was a cause of constant friction
All its decrees were pastoral, it made no definition
But he who dared to question it was fated to perdition.

And this is law, etc.

And now that all in chaos lies, and churches are forsaken
My curate is to Cuba gone, and I a wife have taken.
I deck my flat with disused tat, by way of quaint memento
And trust the coming pontiff won't reverse aggiornamento!

And this is law, etc.

And so it goes.

What to do then? The only reform of the Church that has ever worked has been from within. That is to say, within one's own heart. It sounds very trite and sentimental, but there is two millenia of evidence to support this. If every bishop were replaced tomorrow, they would be products of the same culture that produced the current batch.

Try telling that to the folks who run the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful. For the past week, their discussion list has been yammering about the people who supposedly resigned from the advisory board set up by Arlington's Bishop Loverde, on the grounds of non-disclosure. Then today, somebody in the group stumbled on this gem from The Ever-Infallible (still, after problems of their own at the top) New York Times:

"An article on Friday about conflicting pressures on Roman Catholic bishops over publicizing accusations of sexual abuse misidentified a diocese where a bishop reportedly disregarded a review board's recommendation to remove an accused abuser from the ministry. The diocese, in Virginia, was Richmond, not Arlington; the bishop was Walter F. Sullivan, not Paul S. Loverde."


Friday, June 13, 2003

Oh, and speaking of the 13th (and Italians)...

"Johnny, Johnny, look around, something's lost and can't be found. Saint Anthony please help me find my lost..."

Today is the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua (1191-1231), Franciscan friar and "Doctor of the Church." He is a favorite saint of sons and daughters of Italy around the world. He is also a favorite image of flower gardens, where he is depicted holding the child Jesus, a lily, a book, and (if he has a free hand left over) a loaf of bread. Anthony's name is invoked concerning the following: against shipwrecks, against starvation, against starving, American Indians, amputees, animals, asses, barrenness, boatmen, Brazil, domestic animals, elderly people, expectant mothers, faith in the Blessed Sacrament, fishermen, harvests, horses, Lisbon, lost articles (see above), lower animals, mail, mariners, oppressed people, Padua, Italy, paupers, poor people, Portugal, pregnant women, sailors, seekers of lost articles (see above), shipwrecks, starvation, starving people, sterility, swineherds, Tigua Indians, travel hostesses, travellers, and (inhale!) watermen.

Tomorrow, my parents commemorate their 51st wedding anniversary. I hesitate to say "celebrate," since they're probably still worn out from the shindig we threw for the 50th. But still, I'll give them a call. Unless it's between 4 and 5 this afternoon, because that's when Doctor Phil is on, and I'm not allowed to break The Old Man's concentration.

Of course, the 16th is Father's Day. My son will honor the occasion, by acting like a good family provider at his part-time job in the afternoon, followed by meeting me for dinner in the evening.

By that time, I will have had my own celebration at (what else?) a zydeco dance in southern Maryland. One does what one can with what one has (sigh!).
Reading Between the Lines

Two stories were brought to my attention this morning, both of which underscore one of the great lessons learned after more than twenty years of living and working in the Nation's capital -- that there is always more to a story than that which is printed.

The first appeared in the New York Post yesterday. It seems there was a memorial Mass at Saint Patrick's Cathedral for John "Dapper Don" Gotti, the famous gangster, on the anniversary of his death. While the article doesn't come right out and say it, one is left in the impression that the cathedral staff pulled out all the stops, including the pontifical robes out of the closet. What it does come out and say, was how people reacted to the story.

Unfortunately, other than the headline itself -- "St Patrick's Grants Gotti Mass Appeal" -- there isn't much of a story.

This "memorial" would have been one of eight weekday "low Masses" celebrated from the main altar of St Pat's that day. That is hardly a canonization of the man who ordered the deaths of anyone who rattled his cage. And yet, surely the sight of the Gotti family, stepping out of their long black Cadillacs and walking up the steps of the great building, in their finest black "Sunday-go-to-meetin'" clothes, would raise the eyebrows of more than a few Manhattanites. The church would have done the same for any of them.

My second example is closer to home. I can walk down 17th Street toward The White House, and see in the window of a luggage store where they are selling gas masks for emergency single-use. They probably move them more quickly when the conditions are "code orange," as they have been twice in the last year. But a piece found at the website of former Nixon aide and radio commentator G Gordon Liddy, written by a retired Army seargent, will remind us of the real enemy:

"These weapons are about terror; if you remain calm, you will probably not die. This is far less scary than the media and their 'experts' make it sound... If we don't run around like sheep, they won't use this stuff after they find out it's no fun. The government is going nuts over this stuff because they have to protect every inch of America. You've only gotta protect yourself, and by doing that, you help the country."

I remember as a boy going to a Cub Scout meeting, and after seeing those Civil Defense films about nuclear disasters and fallout shelters and whatnot, expressing my fears to my Dad about the likelihood of those scenarios coming to life. He responded by telling me: "We trust in God that He will know what is best for us, and will take care of us whatever happens."

It was something like that; I don't remember word for word. Except the part that goes "We trust in God..." You know, the part that's on the money. If we have yet to arrive at our true home, then this world, whatever happens in it, is only a waystation on the journey, to the final place -- one that is, in the final analysis, a home of our own choosing.

Something worth remembering this Friday the 13th, a day where fortunes are reduced to a matter of "luck." Today, and every day, has little to do with games of chance, and more to do with the choices we make. We don't pick the hand we are dealt in life. We do pick the cards we lay on the table.

And that, to quote Paul Harvey, is... "the rest of the story."

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

More Skinny Girls in Tights, Oh My!!!

In other words, liturgical dance.

The Catholic bishops of the USA are said to be discussing a position paper on liturgical dance when they meet in Dallas this weekend. This paper was written by a liturgical dance instructor in Ohio named Kathryn Mehelek. The American bishops (no doubt anxious to change the subject from... well, you know!) will give this their respectful attention, even though Rome has already determined, in authoritative statement entitled Dance in the Liturgy, that:

"Here [in western culture] dancing is tied with love, with diversion, with profaneness, with unbridling of the senses: such dancing, in general, is not pure.

"For that reason it cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever: that would be to inject into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements; and so it would be equivalent to creating an atmosphere of profaneness which would easily recall to those present and to the participants in the celebration worldly places and situations."

They will also discuss this, even though the author of the position paper has already attempted to "perform" liturgical dance in a local church, over the initial objections of the local bishop, until Rome stepped in at the last minute and had it moved from the church to the auditorium (see first link above).

This particular issue, from what I have been able to determine, is generally debated between two diametrically opposed forces: the dancers themselves, who promote showing off in front of everybody as a form of "worship" (of themselves, most likely); and the "anti-dancers," (to coin a phrase), who think that all dance is a prelude to profane and evil thoughts and couldn't possibly lend itself to worship, never mind Christian worship.

Like a joke I once heard from some Mennonites: "Q: Why don't we believe in pre-marital sex? A: It could lead to dancing."

Neither side lends any real merit to the issue. To say this does not take issue with the Vatican statement, which correctly (if somewhat indelicately) presumes a role that dancing plays in western culture. It also presumes a particular definition of "dance."

Jewish worship has long had a place for dancing to celebrate its religious feasts, if only outside the temple. The Israelites danced for joy when the Red Sea destroyed the Pharoah's armies. King David wrote in the psalms of praising the Lord with music and dancing. To this day, many Jewish/Israeli dances have distinctly religious or biblical themes. One of my personal favorites is a simple dance done in a circle, to the tune with lyrics taken from the book of the prophet Nahum (2:1):

"Mana vu al he harim
Ra gale hamay va ser.
Ma sha mee ah ha yeshua,
Ma sha mee ha shalom."

("See, upon the mountains there advances the bearer of good news, announcing peace!")

In many countries, the traditional dancing of the commonfolk consists of little more than simple movement in a line or a circle. Often, men and women dance in separate lines or circles. One of the highlights of a Greek or Russian Orthodox wedding, is when the bride and groom are led by the priest in a procession around the icon table, in what is described as their "first dance" as a married couple. In one of the Eastern churches based in India (Malabar or Malankar, I forget which), the deacons are said to "dance" in procession. How this appears, I'm not sure. But it's probably not unlike the practice adopted by an Episcopal parish in California, namely Saint Gregory of Nyssa in (where else?) San Francisco, that takes a unique approach to worship:

"A deacon introduces the tripudium dance step -- three steps forward, one back. The Presider and Deacons lead the congregation, as we each put a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of us, and sing one of the hymns on the insert in the music book. We process to the Altar Table for the Eucharist. The children bring the Gifts to the Table as the Tripudium begins, from the Kitchen..."

Hold on. This gets better.

"The lines of people wrap around the Table, and spiral in..."

My point (and I do have one), is that, like most dancing of the "folk" variety, such movement is meant for people who by general convention "can't dance." It is less about the dancers themselves, and more about that around which they are focusing their dance. The same goes for all action that constitutes worship, be it singing or speaking or praying or... whatever.

For the record, I don't exactly encourage Catholics to start doing a Greek line dance around the altar. But I do believe that, should the day ever come when dance in Christian worship is commonplace in the west (and that's a real big "IF"!), it will appear more like that of St Gregory's tripudium, and less like that of the Leaven Dance Company. (Sorry, kids!). Had such promoters of this artform taken the above into account in the context of Christian worship, they would have shifted the focus away from themselves, and toward that which is due our undivided attention.

You know: God.

Until then, as far as I'm concerned, we'll all just be... dancing around the issue.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

"Shiny happy people holding hands..."

Now, let me get this straight. You've got your shiny people, you've got your happy people, and THEN you've got your shiny happy people. Right?

Thanks to Mark Shea for the insight on this. More multimedia madness this summer courtesy of MWBH. Move over, Victor Lams.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, where the dudes are horsing around...

Last night was the start of a five-night zydeco marathon. I'm up to seven pairs of western boots right now, mostly the pointy-toed variety. The latest acquisition is the color (what else?) black. This will complete the totally black ensemble that is so critical to my Johnny-Cash-wannabe persona. And that's not all. I'm down to a record weight of one-hundred-and-eighty-five pounds! The ultimate goal is 170 by Labor Day, so I can tell the world how I lost FIFTY POUNDS IN TWO YEARS!!!

I'll owe it all to clean living and fancy footwork. Oh, and then there's diet and exercise too. Whatever.

Monday, June 02, 2003

A brief history of a brief history...

The following is an online excerpt from A Brief History of the Future: The Origins of the Internet by John Naughton, published in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in 1999, available at a bookstore near you.
"June is busting out all over, all over the fields and the hills...

(That was a line from a song I heard on Captain Kangaroo when I was a young'un.)

The past weekend had its fill of music and dance. On Saturday night, my son Paul and I headed up to a farm outside of Newark DE, for a terrific barn dance hosted by our buddy Tom. Tom lives in the apartment within the barn, most of which is converted to a dance hall. He and his brother, Charles, who owns the property, both collect vintage automobiles. Below the dance floor was sitting the shell of a 1928 Hupmobile. (My great-grandfather Albert Alexandre drove a 1927 Hupmobile at one point. During Prohibition, his wife made gin in the bathtub of the farmhouse, and had Albert and the boys -- including grandfather Leonard -- on the payroll. Great-grandpaw had to drive his car with the lights off to avoid the "revenuers." Sometimes he would hit a log left out on the road. Such obstructions had little effect on the Hupmobile; they must have been built like a tank.)

Anyway, I was dancing all day long, under balmy breezes and partly cloudy skies, at the annual Louisiana Swamp Romp at Wolf Trap. I made a new friend there, a young woman whose mother, amazingly enough, grew up on a farm near Fayetteville (Brown County) OH, as did my own mother. I took her to the VIP party afterwards. (I mean, we were practically related, right?) After making the usual rounds, we went some distance away and laid out a blanket in the woods. There, with the music playing in the background, we talked of one day getting back into camping and hiking, something this old Eagle Scout had been longing to do for awhile now. Together we gazed up through the trees at the night sky, and made a wish on the first star that appeared, amidst of a clearing of leaves. (Nothing else happened. Honest.)

But the call of the wild has been on my mind much of late. To have one's life and possessions self-contained within the confines of whatever one can carry, is to know how to live simply, and to know, if only for a brief interlude, that with which one can live without. There is a legend in the Celtic tradition, concerning the explorer-monk Brendan the Navigator. After a long voyage, he and his fellow monks found themselves on a deserted island. It was said that they encountered a flock of birds that sang psalms of praise to God during the appointed hours of morning and evening prayer:

"Beating their wings against their sides... they continued singing... for a whole hour. To the man of God and his companions the rhthym of the melody combined with the sound of their beating wings seemed as sweet and moving as a plaintive song of lament... day and night (they) praised the Lord." (from "The Voyage of Saint Brendan" in The Age of Bede, translated by J F Webb, edited by D H Farmer, Penguin Books, 1998.)

With summer "officially" here, I'm looking forward to my plans for the season. They include a dance camp in West Virginia later this month, and another trip to Seattle in August, this time with my son. Other highlights include my thirty-year (!!!) high school reunion. Stay tuned on that one...