MUSIC AND RAINBOWS

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My high school buddy, who stayed close for almost 50 years, Bill Hudson (whose middle name ought to be HOPE), lost all of his material possessions in a fire on Christmas Eve. Rummaging through the ashes, he finally found his computer,940990_1099515113401292_3446580222743088524_n

We old dudes THANK GOD for Cyber Space and its awesome grasp of our memory!!

As i perused through Bill’s “Memories,” two things stood out as the keys to my pal, MUSIC AND RAINBOWS! Hopefully the fundraising which is in effect now at this site: https://www.gofundme.com/gpgc9ghw, will include a new camera for my buddy to keep catching rainbows, his signs of Hope from his personal “cathedral,” Mother Nature. And i keep telling him that he will without a doubt find new music, his own masterpiece, somewhere in the rubble.

Where would we be without music, Bill and i often discuss?! Bill and i made it through the seminary, Bill forever saying – even to this day – that it was my “killer rock n roll collection” that got us through. Bill then became an adopted son of Toshi and Pete Seeger. Without the Music, where would the Great Movements have gone, the war protests, the Civil Rights?!10628572_852633848089421_7179632302544245798_nBill n Petey…laughin through the pain…

And how would any human being have survived Slavery, the Holocaust, or the modern day tortures and slaughters of Christians? When Katrina struck the very City of Music, Bill was one who dropped everything (except his guitar) and ran right down there to help the survivors rebuild, their two crucial ingredients, Music and Rainbows of Hope. He did not ask for a penny for years of love he gave them, only for the Joy of sharing in their Melody. Through floods of tears they sing on, just as the survivors of the Dust Bowl and the long history of devastating twisters. Why, there’s even a laughter in them tears,  as found in Bill Cunningham’s “My Oklahoma Home…it’s blowed away!” No one does it quite so well as Bruce “the Boss,” with whom our Bill has shared the stage. Yep, i can hear that chuckle now in my Bill, even through such sorrow.

My friend, Gerry Straub, of whom i have blogged a few times, Hollywood filmmaker now at home in Haiti, wrote this month as he celebrated Advent and Christmas in the slum, of just how essential to those people, among the poorest on earth,  enduring catastrophe after catastrophe, is the Grace of MUSIC. That music BLARING day and night through his neighborhood is not always so easy to bear, its style and mood quite different from Gerry’s New Age preference, BUT IT MUST PLAY ON, as it is the VERY SOUL of the Haitians crying out to God! like the Song of the Slaves!

Hey, what is Christmas without the age-old carols that never wear out and which were passed on to all of us…to pass on to our children’s children’s children?! And many of those timeless hymns are anything but sweet and peaceful. “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” for example, expresses the agony which CHRISTMAS REALLY IS to millions of men and women, who on that day of “peace n love” feel only loneliness, emptiness and despair. But somehow, singing or just trying to hum the tune will bring a little “Comfort n Joy.” Those haunting words of Christina Rossetti, “What can I give him, empty as I am?” (yes, even under a mountain of gold and silver things!!!) “I will give him – all that I really own – my aching breaking heart.”

Music is indeed the essence of the human soul, as it grasps after that elusive butterfly of peace.

Nothing says this better than my favorite picture of my buddy, Bill.

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He was giving a concert for deaf children. They piled on top of him, smothering the troubador with love, yearning to touch his guitar AND FEEL ITS MUSIC, both its BLUES… and its yellows and its reds and its pinks and oranges and purples, communing with the Rainbow of Bill “Hope” Hudson.

So Bill will rise from his ashes like a phoenix with a tune on its tongue.

PLAIN N SIMPLE, GOD

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A lifetime buddy of mine, Bill, lost his home and everything in it this Christmas Eve, in Virginia. My heart is breaking. When we were kids, Billy had an awesome Faith. Tonight at Mass i prayed that it will RISE to the occasion for him. OF ALL DAYS may he feel close to and comforted by the HOMELESS GOD. Who else could comfort such a man, except such a God! Only One Who KNOWS could speak comfort to him.

Apparently, we really like Reality TV. We like plain, we like simple, we like blunt, vulnerable, transparent. Many of us love naked. So, i scribbled out this Reality E-Card for Christmas. It took me all of 30 seconds. IT DON’T GET ANY SIMPLER! It quotes the first modern saint i ever heard about, when i was going into third grade. The head of the United Nations was killed while on a Peace Mission in Zambia. One entry in his diary said that there is never any separating Christmas from Good Friday, the wood of the manger from the wood of the Cross.

It’s WHY Jesus came. i mean, why was the third Gift of the Magi MYRRH? What kind of man would give a baby enbalming fluid?

So, there it is. No Jingle Bells. No Santa Claus. No garland or balls or fancy golden trim. BUT NO GLOOM EITHER! This should make for the Merriest of all Merry Christmasses. He is WITH US at every party and every parting. In every pain possible.

There was one Christmas where i couldn’t make it to Church. And i was their priest, for crying out loud. Another covered for me, as i was as sick as could be. Actually the whole mess started days before Christmas, when a package arrived from Bethlehem, not Pa. but the REAL one. Someone had ordered a baby Jesus made of olive wood from the Holy Land, and it was precious, but as precious as it was busted…(just as the Lord came to be…) Then i found myself all Dec. 24 and 25 able to go no further than from my bed to the bathroom,a trip that happened dozens of times. Each time my head hit the pillow again, i looked over to see my Babe, and that diaper became more and more real. In fact, the WHOLE THING became SO REAL that year.

A few days later when i stood up before my people again, on the Feast of the Holy Family, i must’ve been like a madman in love, sharing my new, i.e. new depths of discovery, and somehow i could not hold it in, how it all hit me that mine was a mighty poor God, a fragile God, a broken, battered, and homeless God, a God who fully understood us, even to the point of temptation, and to the point of pooping his pants! There ya go, Reality TV! A God just like me! Well, as the people and i were hugging and kissing in the vestibule, one lady came out screaming. She said, “You’re not funny, you know. In fact, you’re disgusting!” She went right home and wrote a letter to the bishop, demanding my apologies or removal. i was so happy to hear from my shepherd, especially as he told me, “Great Job! Keep it up. Blow them all away with the news of our Crazy Loving God!”

Who else could ever speak a single word of comfort, or Joy?! to my buddy, Bill? Only One Who had learned in His Own Flesh and Blood that there is no way to separate Sorrow from Joy. And as the Prophet Gibran wrote, “The deeper that Sorrow carves into your being, the more Joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say,  ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.” So, let us “sleep in heavenly peace,” knowing this reality of realities.

i had a great heart-to-heart with my ole buddy, Bill, and he is amazingly peaceful in his gratefulness to be ALIVE and in the giant comfy “Blanket of Love” poured out from far and wide to cover him now that he owns one tee-shirt. He couldn’t count the times he heard his loving friends say, “OF ALL DAYS for this to happen…” And we agreed that if had to happen, of all days this is THE DAY, the Day we met the Homeless God.

RICHIE RICH

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Though i was quite the model student throughout my elementary school years, i thoroughly enjoyed my occasional illnesses, getting to stay home from school, because it gave me the chance to stay up on Richie Rich. My good mother would provide me with the latest release of “the poor little rich man’s” comic.

WOW! i remember so clearly, as if it were just yesterday, how i dreamed of sharing his wealth, if only for my own fantasy of having a ’63 Corvette in 30 colors, one for each day of the month. Before i obeyed good mom and took my many naps (to prove my absentee was legit), i shut my eyes and imagined the sight, hoping that in my dreams i’d be driving them about.

Fantastical as it all was, who knows – MORE IMPORTANTLY – just how much i was learning from Richie on page after page about the True Value of Wealth, as the main point of every comic book, of every adventure, was Who Is Richie Going to Help Today? Altruism being the boy’s clearest quality, his escapades were to find anyone less fortunate and lift them up. Richie was probably my teacher more than any nun or priest at Saint Helena’s, and he was certainly precursor to my encounters with Francis of Assisi, who sealed the knowledge in me of the real value of money, namely, that it is truly precious to the extent that it is shared.

In recent times, after decades of my own adventures, i have come to know the Real Richie Rich, who shared my passion for sports cars. He was never the owner of any fancy cars, but a master mechanic was he on any kind. There he eked out a humble living and found a worthy pride, fine jewels, though nothing whatsoever in the way of luxury. With nothing materially to cushion his fall, when the body began to give out on him, according to one half of the comic book’s standard, this Mr. Rich had never made it big! But, according to what little Richie REALLY knew in his heart, this guy is one of the best and one of the richest men on earth! Ever the good and honest man, knowing how much each guy cherishes his automobile, Rich was one of the “good guys,” one you could also trust with your “baby.” That’s what he wanted most, to be recognized as true.

In one of the greatest Epics of them all, the oldest English poem, Beowulf, perhaps the greatest treasure that is found throughout the whole long adventure is called by the poet “the Shoulder-Companion,” that one who will stick by you like glue, no matter what comes your way. Most people will be fortunate if they find one such person in life. My Rich Richie has two shoulders – and the incomparable fortune of having two such comrades, Geraldine, his wife of thirty years, until she died of cancer. Geraldine’s best friend, Maggie,  not long after took the other shoulder and the other half of Richie’s soul. What more could a man want? How much richer could one man be? Add a dog, and it’s perfect ecstasy!!!

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When i am around my buddy, Richie Rich, and i see the twinkle in his eyes, i know how rich i am to call him my friend. A Treasure i would take any day over a whole rainbow fleet of Vettes. My Richie Rich – and Maggie, too, are Rich in Love with a Love that’s overflowing.

Those eyes actually TWINKLE!

 

 

O WHAT A CHRISTMAS TREE!

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Every December, just before Christmas, in all of the Catholic churches throughout the world, the deacons or priests proclaim a little piece of the “Good News,” the opening to Matthew’s Gospel. It is a most celebrated reading, but also quite dreaded. Dreaded is the Genealogy of Jesus, as it contains many names that are just so hard to pronounce. LOL! But more than compensating for that is the joyous fact that the Family Tree of Jesus is like that popular embroidery you see in many homes, “Shake my family tree, and you’ll get a bag of nuts.”

WHAT A CHRISTMAS TREE! What HOPE for me that Jesus was born into a great family of misfits,  jerks, sinners, yes, even some thieves and murderers, definitely more than a few scallywags, without a doubt Knuckleheads galore! 10658606_923234814424482_8245376773388572512_o

Such a good portrait of yours truly!

Yet all so precious to the Creator/Father, so precious indeed that He still would will to become one with them, one of us! A TRUE MEMBER OF THE HUMAN FAMILY! Of course, among all of the scallywags stand the minions of everyday good-as-gold, hard-working, God-fearing and neighbor-loving saints.

My friend, Jim, in the Windy City comments that some of my portraits of my everyday saints are “BIBLICAL” in proportion, i.e. bigger than life and epic in significance. And rightly so, as that is what flows right out of Jesus’ strange but wonderful – and oh so ordinary heritage. The EPIC of Life lies in the EVERYDAY; the Great Canvas is mostly made of Commonplace mosaics, the stories of the great losers and the great lovers; EQUALLY, He loves each one (with maybe an accent on the loser!) Human History is HIS STORY, but the Wings of His Spirit wrap around and embrace every story of ours.

Therein lies the real reason why we just can’t toss a single one aside, like some chewed up pencil stub. Each one is special, simply in its Creation. But, then, to us who profess a belief in “the Incarnation-for-Salvation, i.e. that God was born into the human family and grew up much like me,but with a Destiny to Love even to the extent of being nailed to a Tree….

O WHAT A CHRISTMAS/EASTER TREE, the Human Family, every blooming member far more than special, every one SACRED! Remember the blog where i was caught contemplating – and chatting with – a Tree. It was the Sign of this Most Holy Communion that every creature now has with the Creator, because He proved Himself as infinitely MORE than a Creator, as vast and eternal as that may be.  He prefers to be known by every single saint or scoundrel as LOVE – with no amount of sin being able to separate any creature from THE ONE.

SO MANY ANGELS!!!

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a PS blog:

i had just completed a blog…about what torture a doctor’s waiting room can be, when suddenly i was reminded……

Hey! Today is NANCY KUSMISS DAY, super-survivor of several attempts on her life by “the Tougher Side of Mother Nature.” My dear Birthday Lady reminded me of something very important! When she read my blog about my hideous experiences in medical waiting-rooms, Nancy quickly and gently reminded me of something i know so well. REMEMBER WHO IS IN THE WAITING ROOMS! There you will rub many an elbow with an angel or saint; let me NEVER FORGET those holiest of holy places. Everything has another side.

Take for example the VIP of VIPs, my brother-in-law, Paul Stella. Why, his very name means “STAR!” Big strappin muscleman, movie-star quality, very successful attorney and entrepreneur, long distance runner, football player, skier, and, most of all, dandy dancer who’d leave his leading ladies worn out at the dance floor. What a man!10138_446749488739686_1761323796_n

Then suddenly just into the “age for retirement,” the 6th Plateau, his floor collapsed. Paul and i found ourselves living in waiting rooms. Yet, through all of the tortures he just kept a-grinnin, kept a-charmin, and absolutely kept a-dancin! With triple cancer.

We are coming to the end now of another Advent, the word meaning Waiting-for-the-One-to-Come – on Christmas. My mother always says, and at 88 she’s lived on enough lines to know it, that “Life is mostly about Waiting.” But, she and i often talk about the SECRET TO THE WAITING. We have found that the best way, the ONLY WAY, to wait FOR (be it the doc, the test, the rest from pain, or the God Who Comes) is to Wait ON, to spend our waiting-hours CARING for our fellow waiters. If i focus on one who is worse off than me, i suddenly find strength i never knew i had. It’s the old proverb, “Help your brother get his boat across the stormy sea, and SEE! Your own has reached the other shore!”

Paul was just about there, to the other side. We weren’t sure, but as it turned out only a few weeks were left, when Cardinal Timothy Dolan came to our church to visit, yes even in a snowstorm. And Paul, though he could barely walk, was determined to meet the shepherd. We managed to get him there for the Mass, and afterwards this Superman somehow – as if with his last burst of power – got to the reception hall. Music was playing, and for Paul that translated into only one thing, the dance. When the Cardinal entered the gymnasium, it was incredible, how something was directing him straight through this vast crowd to this SUPER-LAMB. As he found Paul doing the very best he could in his condition to move with the melody, the Cardinal asked, “And who is this man? Is it Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire?” i answered, “Neither. This is the best of them all, Paul Stella, DANCING WITH CANCER.” 12377612_922642684483695_75513668199837697_o

Even the Lady Cancer has her other side. She danced him right into Paradise. She found that she could take his shell of a body, handsome as it was, but she could not touch the REAL Paul. So, let’s always REMEMBER just WHO is WAITING in the waiting rooms!!! SO SO MANY ANGELS surround us!

Hey, Happy Birthday, Nancy. To many many more…keep kickin’ and DANCIN’, my Dear.

I SHALL NEVER GIVE UP ON YOU

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While pulling into a spot at the grocery store today, i felt a little bump under the front tire. So afraid of a nail or screw – encountered more than once – i quickly jumped out and looked under, only to find a sparkly red pencil, lined with golden hearts. It was obvious that i hadn’t been the first to run it over!

Now, most people would have paid it no further mind. They would’ve said, Thanks, God, for my tire, and gone shopping. But, i am not like most people. Believe me, it was not its fanciness that got to me. i guess it is the fact that it is STILL GOOD!

Moments such as this take me back to my priestly days, to one day in particular, at St. Mary’s Church in Fishkill, N.Y., when i was sent to spend a few hours in the dark of the confessional box listening to sinners and assuring them of Mercy. Something kept sticking me in the butt every time i shifted on that hard seat, but i couldn’t tell until it was all over, and i returned to the light. It was a teeny weeny stub of a pencil. Perhaps, i thought, the last priest had it – and a flashlight – and wrote some really long sermon in between customers. There were only a few words left in it, but, do you know what, i KEPT IT! i still have it today over 30 years later!! Not necessarily to use it for writing, but for what it represents! It is STILL GOOD! It is like the thousands of people who knelt in that box with me. No matter who, no matter what, i was there to simply say – FOR THE BOSS – He Will Never Give Up On You, Never Stop Loving You. You are Still Good!

MERCY was BORN in BETHLEHEM mainly for the purpose of telling us that. MERCY was Born Again at Greccio, the Baby Jesus in the arms of St. Francis who reenacted the First Christmas because the world needed to know He Still Cared, He Still Had Hope in us, We are Still VERY GOOD. And MERCY was born a billion times in confessionals and other places, where men and women bowed humbly and asked for another chance.

i shall never forget an episode of the Waltons, back in the 70s, when the baby sister visited JohnBoy’s sacred room and asked what he was always doing in there. He took a little pencil and tried to explain it as a wand of magic. He told her that with that little stub of lead he could make 10000 cry in  China or lift some person who was really really really in the dumps, say in New York or Chicago, make them smile or even laugh  – and have HOPE again.

That day at St. Mary’s was the first time i had this thought of how easily, how quickly, we might cast such a stub aside, even drive over it with a ton of metal. Infinitely sadder still we could easily cast aside a fellow human, maybe one who doesn’t look as good, as neat, as together as we. God never does throw them away. He will always see so much good, the way i can get on my knees and rescue the red and gold stick that could still rouse or soothe a soul across the globe.

To me the classic example of all of this will always be the awesome Dobri Dobrev of Bulgaria. Why, just look at him:

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We have seen countless Dobris in our days, and they might as well be Debris!! They seem so useless, so lost, so NOTHING. For a long, long time Dobri was wandering around Bulgaria, as he still does at 101, covering ten kilometers + per day with beggar’s cup in hand. Eventually, however, his secret became known. Dobri is quite content to live on $100 pension per month in joyful squalor. The money he has raised, quite a small fortune, he begged for orphanages and poor at churches. He sees himself as quite the rich man. If you stop him  to chat, he’ll tell you why, that he had done some bad things in his life, but God forgave him, told him that he is STILL GOOD. This is just a little way to prove it and say thanks. He looks this way, because, well, it doesn’t matter how we look. What matters is the LEAD – the LOVE – inside.

THE REAL THING!

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Pope Francis praying at the site of the Baby Jesus’ Re-appearance in the arms of St. Francis

 

Senior Citizenship hit me like a double-barreled shotgun, my 62 year old body suddenly filled with all sorts of ill. Ho Ho Ho, what a sack o’ woe! But the Biggest Bang wasn’t any of the new diseases or newly-aggravated old ones. No, the worst of it all was being forced into imprisonment. Hours upon hours i have been held captive in medical waiting-rooms, pacing or sitting under large TV screens that battered me with either hideous Trumpisms or, even worse, movie upon movie supposedly about Christmas – with a thousand commercials in between supposedly about Christmas, too.

Let me tell you, NAUSEA was the ONLY SYMPTOM i didn’t have until then!

And it all reached its sorriest, sourest crescendo today with some story about a family in some big fancy mansion who were running out of money. Then, as if magically, miraculously, the man got a giant bonus, and happiness reigned again, as father declared, “Now we can have a Real Christmas!”

PLEASE, will someone get me the oxygen! Or, wait!! if i’m gonna have to watch any more,  take AWAY my oxygen!

Thank God this ole body still has its memory. i tried my best at each place to shut my eyes,  tune in to my lovely tinnitus ring, and to journey back to the two best places that i have ever visited, Assisi and Greccio, Italy….

 

1216150839Greccio, high upon a cliff overlooking the beautiful Rieti Valley, is where you lay eyes on one of the oldest known pictures of Saint Francis, apparently how he really looked. He is crying over how PEOPLE STILL DON’T GET IT.img_20161220_112616

And Greccio is where the whole wonderful tradition of reenacting the First Christmas, The REAL THING, began – with Francis. (NO, he can’t be held responsible for any of this MODERN MESS!) For Francis it was ALL SO SIMPLE. We humans, including the church kind, are the grand old complicators!

Francis’ intention was to recall the whole STARK BEAUTY of it all. Over this large barren rock he laid out the scene, gathering the common folk of Greccio all around. He looked out from that cliff and saw a world in desperate need of some reminder of that HIGH POINT OF HISTORY. He was watching so sadly as the Great Divide between rich (his own family) and poor grew wider every day, and he could not tell which side was the richer or which the poorer. The one and only thing of which he was certain was that the Son of God was Poorest of all. Christmas had nothing to do with cluttering things. No disguises. It was simply about a Babe on a rock.

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And the Babe was a living, breathing, crying, bleeding (yes, even pooping) Love Letter from the Heavenly Father, saying, “See, I have not given up on you yet!” Why a Baby? Because i suppose a baby will always bring out the Best of people. A baby disarms, a baby unites, a baby makes people forget differences and disputes – and start over. A baby makes people act silly again, like clowns, like children!! yes,  even ones who have been quite hardened by life.

THIS BABY wanted to let us know, “I understand! Or what I don’t understand yet, I will – in your Time!” This Baby – if all sorts of people could consider Who He Is – might make all of the different sides stop for a day (remember how the Germans and the Allies STOPPED that night and had a smoke together, and a laugh or two, right on the battlefield! Christmas Night in The Great World War!) Or maybe they will pause for just a moment, then say, let’s make peace for the BABIES’ SAKE…There is no limit to what a BABY can do!

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So, please, don’t look for a bonus to have a nice Christmas. Rather, let’s LOOK AT THE BONUS (the Good God) and have a REAL CHRISTMAS!