Sunday, January 19, 2020

January 19: Hyperdulia, Daughter and Son, Everyday Gifts

Merton's memories of his little brother, John Paul:

I mention all this because, as a matter of fact, the movies were really family religion at Douglaston.

That summer, 1923, Pop and Bonnemaman had taken John Paul with them, and had gone to California, and had visited Hollywood, with the status of something more than simple tourists, since Pop knew a lot of movie people in a business way.  The trip had something of the nature of a pilgrimage, however, and we never heard the end of what Jackie Coogan had personally said to them and how he had acted personally in their presence, in a real actual personal face-to-face-meeting-with-Jackie-Coogan. 

Pop and Bonnemaman's other heroes were Doug and Mary, I admit, that what with Robin Hood and the Thief of Baghdad we all paid Douglas Fairbanks a somewhat corrupt form of hyperdulia, although neither I nor John Paul could get excited over Mary Pickford.  But to Pop and Bonnemaman, Doug and Mary seemed to sum up every possible human ideal:  in them was all perfection of beauty and wit, majesty, grace and decorum, bravery and love, gaiety and tenderness, all virtues and every admirable moral sentiment, truth, justice, honor, piety, loyalty, zeal, trust, citizenship, valor, and, above all, marital fidelity.  Day after day these two gods were extolled for the perfection of their mutual love, their glorious, simple, sincere, pious, faithful conjugal devotion to one another.  Everything that good, plain, trusting middle-class optimism could devise, was gathered up into one big sentimental holocaust of praise, by my innocent and tender-hearted grandparents, and laid at the feet of Doug and Mary.  It was a sad day in our family when Doug and Mary were divorced.  

My grandfather's favorite place of worship was the Capitol theatre, in New York.  When the Roxy theatre was built, he transferred his allegiance to that huge pile of solidified caramel, and later on there was no shrine that so stirred his devotion as the Music Hall.

There is no need to go into details of the trouble and confusion my brother and I often managed to create in the Douglaston household.  When guests came whom we did not like, we would hide under the tables, or run upstairs to throw hard and soft objects down into the hall and into the living room.

One thing I would say about my brother John Paul.  My most vivid memories of him, in our childhood, all fill me with poignant compunction at the thought of my own pride and hard-heartedness, and his natural humility in love.

I suppose it is usual for elder brothers, when they are still children, to feel themselves demeaned by the company of a brother four or five years younger, whom they regard as a baby and whom they tend to patronise and look down upon.  So when Russ and I and Bill made huts in the woods out of boards and tar-paper which we collected around the foundations of the many cheap houses which the speculators were now putting up, as fast they could, all over Douglaston, we severely prohibited John Paul and Russ's little brother Tommy and their friends from coming anywhere near us.  And if they did try to come and get into our hut, or even to look at it, we would chase them away with stones.

At the end of this passage, Merton sounds almost regretful of the way he treated his younger brother, John Paul.  Of course, being the youngest in my family of nine, I was a spoiled child.  I had five older sisters, and they were charged with taking care of me.  That's the way things go with a family that large.  The older siblings take care of the younger ones.

Even in my own small family--two children, a daughter of 19, a son of 11)--my daughter feels a certain responsibility for her brother.  When my son loses his shit, my daughter is usually able to calm him down.  Amazingly.  He isn't easily distracted when he's upset.  Yet, she has a way with him.  Always has.  It's a sibling thing.  They understand each other in ways no other person does.

I spent most of today with my daughter, running errands, grocery shopping, visiting a good friend.  It was a great afternoon, even though I hate grocery shopping.  Stores like Meijer tend to make me incredibly anxious.  Too many choices and distractions.  Today, with my daughter and her boyfriend and our new puppy in tow, even grocery shopping wasn't overwhelming.

As we were heading to my parents' house to have dinner this evening, my daughter, holding the puppy, looked at me and said, "By the way, daddy."  I looked at her.  She raised the puppy's muzzle and smiled.  "Best present ever," she said.

This weekend, I saw a change in my son.  For the last couple weeks, he's had a hard time controlling his emotions in high-stress situations.  He's screamed at me.  Kicked me.  Swore at me.  Spit on me.  This isn't anything new.  Yet, he's controlled himself the last three days.  Most of the time.  Since the puppy arrived in our lives on Friday, my son's attitude has completely changed.  He's almost (dare I say it?) behaving normally.

Of course, I have no idea how a normal 11-year-old boy is supposed to behave.  My son practiced his trombone for the last three days without incident.  I just reminded him that he has homework to complete when he gets home.  He didn't try to eat my face off.  That's huge.  My daughter teased him about taking a shower tonight, and he didn't charge at her with a snow shovel.  That's huge, too.

My life is far from normal, just like Merton's life.  I still have stresses.  Still worry about bills and my kids and wife and jobs.  Perhaps that is all normal.  I'm not sure.  Normal is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.  For Merton, it was normal to have one parent--his father--who was a semi-famous painter.  His grandfather had ties to the movie industry.  Normal. 

I play am a teacher and medical office work erand am a poet.  I work three jobs, four if you count playing the pipe organ on the weekends.  I have someone in my life who is suffering a serious mental health and addiction issues.  These things are all normal to me.  Pretty soon, having a puppy in the house will be normal, too.  Everything starts out as abnormal--each new experience or friend or task.  Then, I get used to the abnormal, and it becomes everyday.

It's up to me to keep things new.  Fresh.  To recognize the hand of God in all my daily experiences.  Everything (normal and abnormal) is a gift.  Merton uses the term "hyperdulia" in the passage above.  By definition, hyperdulia is "the veneration offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the most exalted of creatures."  It's not the same veneration offered to God.  It's a veneration of a creation of God.

Tonight, I offer hyperdulia to the gifts of this weekend.  In particular, my daughter and son, who remind me daily to practice selfless love.  To my wife, who challenges me daily to look beyond brokenness toward light.  And to the newest member of my family.  Juno.  Miniature Australian shepherd.  Puppy.  Joy-bringer.  The greatest gift my daughter has every received.

Saint Marty offers hyperdulia to all.

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