Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Guest Blogger: Donie O'Connor--"There's Always Something"

Note: I am delighted to welcome to this blog my good friend, Fr. Donie O'Connor. Donie is a Mill Hill missionary priest, who has served the poor in Africa. For the past two years he has served the congregation of Christ the King Church, Pleasant Hill, California, and done so with great generosity of presence and  wisdom.

I ran excitedly into the kitchen, tripped and broke my nose. I can still hear my mother’s words: ‘There’s always something.’ Yes with eight children there was never an empty moment in our home. My mom died peacefully at home at the age of ninety, six years ago. I remember sitting on her bed and joking with her about this incident and what she said. With a gentle laugh she sighed: “When I pass on, put that epitaph on my gravestone: There’s always something.’ ” 

And there always is. All of us identify with my mom. All of us recognize her frustration. All our moments are crowded with uninvited guests and unsummoned grief. There are voices everywhere commanding our attention inside and outside.

There is always something big or small that steals the substance of ‘the now.’ Something casts its slanting shadow that prevents us from entering into the richness of the present moment. An anxiety, a lingering regret, something that should be done or something I should be doing. A lingering headache or heartache, an unpaid bill, a bitterness or a jealousy. Yes, something lurks around the corner ready to rob the present moment of its joy.

The late Dutch spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen in his little gem, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, documents this. “Our life,” he wrote, “is a story where sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment.” And they can co-exist.

There is a tinge of poignancy that invades every moment of our daily lives. It seems there is never a clear-cut pure joy or a clear-cut pure motive. Even in love’s passionate rapture, there is the reflection of sadness. In every satisfaction, there is the awareness of limitation. In every risk, there is the element of danger. In every love, the fear of hurt. In every success, the dread of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a teardrop. In every friendship, a distance. In every freedom, there are consequences; and in every embrace, there is loneliness. In every dawn, there is twilight.

There’s always something!

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Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

(c) 2012 by Alfred J. Garrotto

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Monday, July 16, 2012

The (Dubious) Wisdom of Work

I'm still feeling disturbed after reading M. Allen Cunningham's fictional biography, Lost Son, based on the life of Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. First, let me say that Cunningham has to be one of our most gifted modern American writers. Rarely has an author chosen such an unappealing protagonist, yet pulled me through his book on the strength of sensitive, mesmerizing--and poetic--prose. In an Amazon review, I gave the author five stars, while mentally assigning but one to Rilke himself.

M. Allen Cunningham
But why this pervading discomfort that refuses to fade days after closing the book? I believe it arises--or descends--from Rilke's personal mission statement: work is everything . . . all else comes second, a far and distant runner-up. The poet abandoned his only child, Ruth, for most of her life, seemingly for no other reason that he saw her as an innocent impediment to his life's work. Though married to the sculptress, Clara, whom he loved, he designed their marriage to be a celibate existence, even during those rare periods when they happened to be in the same European city at the same time. (Clara later filed for divorce.) 

But why does Rilke's strange way of being bother me so much that I want to ring his neck and tell him a thing or two. About what, though? Cunningham's portrayal of the famous poet picks at scabs in my own life, past and present. Early in my adulthood, I bought into a similar "work is everything" philosophy. And I was miserable. I have learned that old ways die hard. After marrying and knowing the joy of children, and now an adored grandchild, I still struggle to fend off the beast of 'work-first.'

Cunningham has given a wonderful portrayal of a flawed literary genius. In doing so, his novel will continue to haunt me for the rest of this summer, at least, and perhaps beyond.
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Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of the novel, The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story

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