Sunday, August 14, 2016

August 14: Cleaning, Order, Classic Saint Marty

Just spent an hour or so cleaning my wife's car.  I did the whole shebang:  collecting the detritus of about a year of use, vacuuming the floors, wiping down the upholstery.  It smells clean and looks clean, and my wife is really happy.

I like cleaning.  Putting things in order.  I think it possibly has to do with the normal chaos of my life.  With two jobs, plus a couple of side jobs as a church organist, I sometimes feel like I'm going to meet myself coming in or going out of a building.  With the fall semester fast approaching, I have returned to lugging around my daily planner.  (I spurn it  during the summer months out of principle.  I don't want to be tied to a schedule and "to do" lists.)  The planner gives my life a sense of order.

My two Constant Readers may think I'm a little too obsessed with planning and order.  However, I need it like a security blanket.  I know that I'm not really in control of much in my life.  I plan to get up tomorrow morning at 4:45 and go to work.  Tomorrow afternoon, I'm taking my daughter to the AT&T store to check into getting her a new phone.  Those are my plans for tomorrow.  God may have something else in mind for my tomorrow.  But, having my day mapped out on paper holds off the specter of imminent catastrophe for me.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty is sort of about this subject.  It first aired about a year ago, four days before my sister died.  That whole experience was a lesson in surrender to God's plan, even if that plan didn't match up with my plan (or my sister's).  Inscrutability is part of the divine plan for the universe, and railing against that inscrutability is part of the human condition sometimes.

My seven-year-old son thinks that owning an iPhone would be the best thing for him.  I know that would be a recipe for expensive disaster.  Father knows best.  I have to remind myself the same thing every once in a while.  Our Father knows best. 

August 15, 2015:  Fifteen Albums, Midst of Life, Michael David Madonick, "Stork"

One of the kids would say that Robert had showed up in generally good spirits around a quarter after four, a little late, and that they joked about the prospect of getting hired to record the theme song to a cartoon show about outer-space hounds from Japan in the new year, work that Ives had gotten them through a connection; that he walked in with a Sam Goody's shopping bag as well as another bag filled with different items, mainly paperback books.  Dressed too lightly for the cool day, he had worn a long black-hooded raincoat and a cap that he didn't like because it messed up his fine dark hair, brown penny loafers and galoshes, a Cardinal Spellman High School senior ring.  During the break he sat around with a couple of his friends in the choir room, showing them the 33rpm records he had bought as Christmas presents that afternoon, about fifteen albums in all.

Those are the details of Robert Ives' final afternoon of life.  Christmas is approaching.  He's a senior in high school.  Loaded down with presents, Robert has plans.  Practicing with the church choir.  Entering the seminary.  Recording a theme song for a TV show.  Robert is surrounded by the promise of the future, as most 17-year-old high school seniors are.  In an hour or so, he will be dead.

I think we're all a little like Robert.  When I get up in the morning, I think about breakfast and work and school.  As I go through the day, I read poems, write a blog post, sometimes clean a bathroom.  In the evening, I'm already thinking about the following day.  The future is always on my mind, and that future does not include death.

Yet, as the Book of Common Prayer says, "in the midst of life, we are in death."  A year ago, I'm sure, my sister was not thinking of death.  She was thinking about dinner and watching The Big Bang Theory.  Sure, she had a broken wrist and back pain, but she still was thinking of a future.  A long future.

My sister is doing well at home.  For the most part, she's peaceful, without pain.  For the first time in a while, she's munching on ice chips.  Opening her eyes every once in a while.  Around her, life is going on as normal.  My dad is sleeping through reruns of Gunsmoke.  My nephews and nieces are playing video games.  My son is having tantrums over bathing.  There's laughter and arguments.  Life.

Today is hot.  It's supposed to reach over 90 degrees.  My brother is taking my son on a fishing trip.  I'm planning on going for a run this afternoon.  A short one.  I'm also playing the pipe organ for the afternoon Mass.  And then we will order pizza like we always do on Saturday nights.  And my sister will be in the midst of all of this.

I'm still not convinced that bringing my sister to my parents' house was the best decision in the world.  However, at the moment, the prospect of my sister going gentle into that good night is not imminent.  She is surrounded by family and friends.  People who love her.  That is a good thing.

Saint Marty is not raging against the dying of the light.  Yet.

          for my father, Carl, who died October 5th, 1998
          and for his great-granddaughter, Anna, born October 5th, 1998

by:  Michael David Madonick

What bird brings grief?  The crow, the raven, some multitude of starlings
rapturing their madness in an oak?  Or is it that simple bird, a sing sparrow

chilled and pouting up against the dawn?  I wonder, when they passed

through the darkness, toward their different light, how my father might
have talked with her, holding her hand, a hand already formed at some

perfect age, at ten or twelve, and his, at thirty or thereabout.  In our time,

it wasn't long, five hours, maybe six.  But time enough, I think, for a walk
along the boardwalk near Rockaway, for something to eat, time for my

father to tell his great-granddaughter how he never liked walking

on sand, particularly on hot days, such as this, but that she should try it,
not keep back from the waves where they both could see some ghostly

sooty gulls trace their wings across the phosphorescence of breaking

sea.  And Anna, with her perfect mouth, might thank my father
for the chocolate milkshake she had no idea she loved.  He would

have spoiled her like that, in that short time, but not without warning,

not without the undertow, the jellyfish, the lost hooks that even there
good fishermen lose to things beyond their dreams.  He'd have warned her

until he left, disappeared from Ft. Lauderdale, in the chimney smoke

of the crematorium's Monday afternoon, where like a painting, a painting
assembling itself against the unframed canvas of sky, a large bird would

form, tall and strong, no flimsy phoenix, he wouldn't have that, not even

in dream, he'd make a more useful bird, something of his smoke, that
could carry the practical, the precious, across the confusing distance

of the in-between.  It could carry six pounds, almost seven, and when

it landed nearly breathless in Vermont, against my daughter's breast,
she'd be happy, scared and warned.  Such is that early crying, that distance

from the beach.  Such is that bird that did my father's work.  It is made

of grief.  In a year or maybe twelve, I'll bring her chocolate by some
beach, she'll look at me, and me at her, as if at something both of us


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