Twenty-seven years ago a little boy gave me such a hug that i can still feel it, and it still brings tears to my eyes. It happened in a confessional where he and i found ourselves wrapped in the arms of God. That day that boy bonded with another little boy who twenty-seven years earlier had felt the very same hug of God.
i shall always be grateful beyond words for so many years of sharing in the Grace and Ministry of the Catholic Priesthood. And i’ll never deny a bit of longing during these years of raising six children for THOSE MUCH QUIETER TIMES.
The Season of Lent, which we are in once more, is always a time of special memories in that regard, as many of the best things that happen in a priest’s life happen then.
One of the most sacred seasons of the Church year, Lent, was also – to me – one of the most comical. This page about ashes, recently sent to me, gave me a good chuckle. i can still see the faces of many, especially children, as they cringed and hoped that i’d show mercy to their foreheads. Oh, the things we do to please God, and, as so many think, to work some magic spell. Some of the saddest moments of my priesthood were when on those holier Wednesdays Catholics – otherwise UNFAMILIAR with that Church – came up on my Holy Communion line, and when i said, “This is the Body of Christ,” (this is the One Who loves you, even if no one else does) only to hear a big, “WHAT!?” “The Body of Christ,” i’d say again, to their “I Don’t Want THAT!! Where’s the ashes?” as if those ashes had some power other than to say, “HEY! You are going to DIE! Let’s live accordingly.” IF i DIDN’T LAUGH, i’d CRY!
But, by far the most wonderful and rewarding experiences of my priesthood happened in the Confessional, and though they were a year-long thing, Lent is their “High Season.” Yes, i heard confessions EVERYWHERE, in churches, prisons, convents, bars, during strolls on the beach or camp-outs on mountains. Every age, every kind…My very first customer was a bishop. Wow, here i was brand spanking new and still looking like a kid with long, hippie hair, then a knock at the door, and Holy Cow! So scared was i that i almost lied and said, “i’m Brother Mike, let me find you a priest.” When i lived in Rome, the word among priests was to “Watch Out! If the Pope, John Paul II at the time, came walking by, chances are he’ll pull you aside and ask you to forgive his sins.” TRUE STORY! i guess that’s one of the reasons he’s now called Saint John Paul. Thank God i never got the tug, though, look, i did shake hands with the Saint.
Over the 26 years since the same Pope permitted me to leave the priesthood, i can’t count how many people have marveled at the fact that i can walk around carrying a million secrets, some monster-big, but not even get weighed down or made into a hunchback. Easily i had a million do-do’s dumped on me, but i do DO BELIEVE, as i often told those sinners,that anything said to me went into my ear and my heart just like pails of ocean into a hole in the beach. As kids we tried to dump it there, but alas! whatever went in, it was gone! Every tiny drop, and every single sin, simply disappeared. And just the opposite of weighing us down, the experiences invigorated us!
And i was sworn to secrecy forever, and never would i think of repeating any sin, even if i could remember any – which by God’s Grace i never could. i would never betray anyone’s trust.
There is, however, a little dilemma of one, no – two, OUTSTANDING CONFESSIONS, which i have never been able to hold in my heart alone. And 30+ years later i believe that i am safe from lightning bolt or from excommunication by Pope Francis (WHO WOULD LOVE these true stories more than anyone!!) As long as i hold names, times and places to myself, if i am wrong, God will show me mercy. One was a woman who made a good confession and received my absolution, but minutes later i heard her voice again, repeating everything. i stopped her, “Excuse me, but weren’t you just here?” To which she then confessed with chuckles and tears, “Yes, but the Mercy felt soooooo good, I just wanted to feel it again.” My fellow priests and i were often BLOWN AWAY by that joyful gift of tears that God allowed us to share.
My other unforgettable story was that of a little boy, no older than 8, who, having the option of sitting on a comfy chair in front of me or going into “the dark side” the old-fashioned way chose the latter. So frightened, so ashamed of the absolute gravity of his sin, as if unforgivable, he hemmed and hawed, the kneeler squeaking as he shifted and shook, until finally he laid it on me. He had done the unthinkable. He had said “Alleluia” during Lent!!! “So, there it is, Father Mike.” Now i was GLAD that he’d chosen the dark side, so he couldn’t see me fighting back a laugh…as i did try and try to think how such a thought could have taken over such a sweet and sensitive soul??? He had one more thing to say, and it burst out of him like the ANGST of ALL HUMANITY. i often wonder if it was the source of my present tinnitus, as he SCREAMED in my ear, “Do you THINK God can ever forgive me?”
It is our ancient custom to make Lent a time of sorrow for sin, a time to focus on our weaknesses and faults and endless need for God (and so to refrain from that word til its crescendo on Easter.) Yes, but our ponderings and penance should never be without the GREATER SENSE, the deeper knowledge, that God is and has always been there – to hold us and lift us up NO MATTER WHAT. Lent is most of all a Season of Joy, the Joy of realizing that nothing we can ever do can make God stop loving us. The word “LENT” means, in fact, “SPRING,” and what in the world is happier than that? after a long cold gloomy winter. Down the hill from my home in Beacon, New York, the church bells of Beacon First Presbyterian ring at certain hours of the day. The hymns are already set, by computer, and they are indiscriminate of season. How Sweet It Is to hear – yes, throughout the Lenten period, this reminder that the Battle is Already WON: “Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia!”
i tried to tell this to the boy – and how he should whisper alleluias all the time, maybe even SHOUT A FEW FROM HIS ROOFTOP, yes even during Lent. i don’t recall just how i put it to him. i only remember that when he got up from the dark side and opened the door, he suddenly opened mine, came into the Light Side and gave me a hug i shall never forget. Sins i forget (and his wasn’t one), but MERCY NEVER!
One of the masterpieces of our literature by our once Poet Laureate, Robert Frost:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun; And makes gaps even two can pass abreast. The work of hunters is another thing: I have come after them and made repair Where they have left not one stone on a stone, But they would have the rabbit out of hiding, To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean, No one has seen them made or heard them made, But at spring mending-time we find them there. I let my neighbor know beyond the hill; And on a day we meet to walk the line And set the wall between us once again. We keep the wall between us as we go. To each the boulders that have fallen to each. And some are loaves and some so nearly balls We have to use a spell to make them balance: ‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!' We wear our fingers rough with handling them. Oh, just another kind of outdoor game, One on a side. It comes to little more: There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.' Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head: 'Why do they make good neighbors?'.... GOD IT IS Who doesn't like walls. But walls, unfortunately, will always be necessary AS LONG AS HUMANS ARE HUMAN. It is the "Masonry of our Mamas and our Papas" to figure out just how strong the walls should be. The other day i declared my pride in my Pope for making a masterful "Jesus Move," on the matter of "the Wall," giving his whole wise yet simple take : "A person who thinks only about building walls and not bridges is not Christian; this is not the Gospel." What i failed to mention in my happy excitement - THE MOST IMPORTANT THING OF ALL - was my much greater PRIDE in him for saving that now famous sentence until the end of all of his strong prophetic words throughout Mexico and the whole world. Donald Trump has rightly mentioned that the Vatican has quite the wall!!!! But before we can chant "hypocrisy," my point is that Pope Francis already unleashed his usual criticism, a hundred times as many words with far more fire, on his own, his fellow priests and shepherds,in both the past and the present, for building walls between them and God's people, especially the poor. It has been his passionate cry from day one of his pontificate, that the selfish seeking of power and of comforts over compassion must be wiped out throughout the earth. This is CLEARLY A MAN WHO DETESTS WALLS - and wholoves bridges. i believe that he owns in his chest the HEART OF GOD, and i know that he has in his head a very wise and practical brain that is ready to acknowledge that - UNFORTUNATELY - walls are sometimes needed by humans. Right after the Holy Spirit of God swept up the bridge-builder of Argentina and planted him on the world stage, because he has that Heart of God, that same Spirit spoke through the special little Capuchin friar, Cantalamessa, who has been the Pope's Preacher for 36 years. It was on Good Friday, 2013,that Fr. Raniero stepped up to the pulpit at the Vatican and delivered the profound message that this amazing Pope Francis' election reminded us Pope John XXIII, who "opened the window of the Church to let in some fresh air."It was wonderful, but it wasn't enough! NOW through this New Man of God theSpirit needed to do some major Spring Cleaning and to knock down partitionsand closets, unnecessary trappings - WALLS - that had been built over many centuries and taken the Church from the Simplicity of the Gospel. Later on, i heard from my Capuchin friends that it did not strike well with many of the upper echelon. BUT POPE FRANCIS SURE DIDN'T FIRE HIM!! Rather, this hasbeen the chief work of the Holy Father all along, to return to the purity, to the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ,in whom humanity came to see and to know that Heart of God. Pope Francis' constant wish and cry is that all leaders of Churches and Governments start there before heading to the field to fix the walls. He has certainly reserved his strongest judgment for his own!!! A dear friend of mine puts it this way, "The Reign of the Good Old Boys is Over!!"
When people ask me what was my own favorite blog, it’s hard, but i always end up with my FRANCOBOLLI with the ROLLING R, about my miraculous experience in a post-office in Rome, Italy.
But i think it’s time for a FRANCOBOLLI II, this one about my precious Mother. My mom is the easiest person to please. Whenever it’s time to get her a gift for some occasion, she’ll beat me to it. In anticipation she’ll call and say, “All I Want, All I Need is Francobolli!” Of course, she can really wreck Italian!! Ha Ha! And that one, my favorite Italian word, means Postage Stamps! She may not be able to roll her r’s, but this little lady knows what she wants. She’ll even add, “Fancy stamps, preferably flowers or birds!”
And my Mother is the Master of the Ancient, Long-Forgotten, Sacred Art of Letter-Writing!
She’ll say it loud n clear; she’ll say it over and over. “I don’t tweet, I don’t text, I don’t FB, I don’t E, and I sure don’t Insta!! No, I like to take my time and fill it with alot of Love and Tenderness, so Letters Are the Best!!!”
She has been writing them to me, almost every week, for almost 50 years. i tried and tried to keep up with her, but she’s a true marathoner. In time i surrendered to the easier sprints, and she left me, heck, she left us all in the dust…..but faithful “FOREVER,” as the American francobolli say it.
It would not surprise me if my mother still has every letter she ever received, so much does she treasure every note and every sender. She’s even got a few tucked away from some V.I.P.’s, but to my Mother – and this is the Number One reason why she writes – each and every person MUST KNOW and be REMINDED how VERY IMPORTANT he or she (and she’s even written to our pets!!!), ALL SO PRECIOUS TO HER. She especially adores the mailmen – as they do her. Walt Kruzienski, mailman of the century, is grateful for her revenue; not one of those confounded price hikes ever slowed her down. And her vision of mailmen as archangels never once faded.
She loved her dear husband from the day they met til the day God took him home (and loves him still). She watched eight little robins hatch and grow, then fly away (and she loves and cares for them still). But Letter-Writing, now that has been one of her Godly Missions in this world, for this whole world, throughout her life. There couldn’t possibly be a count of how many lives she has touched, boosted, bettered, made to know how VERY IMPORTANT they are.
If anyone deserves to have her face on a stamp, a francobollo, it is my dear Mother. Hey! i think i’ll make one for her. On the bottom, of course, the USPS will already write Forever. But over this picture, at the orchid-covered table where she’s written thousands, i would add one word. Interestingly, the great saint Mother Teresa always said that “In the end it will not matter how much money you had or how many cars or houses, how pretty your face remained or whether you were famous. All that matters is how FAITHFUL you were.”
So, my sweet momma, francobollist extraordinaire, FAITHFUL FOREVER.
Wow! He’s done it! Pope Francis has Out-Cooled Himself!! All this week people wondered if he’d say something??? And if so, WHAT WILL IT BE? Just when it seemed he’d decided to stay silent…up in the air he went. And, well, you know he gets on that plane. Something in the air up there sets his Spirit free…
The best of the Prophets are the simplest of men. So, he simply whips up a little deja vu…..just like the time they cornered Jesus, put him to a test?? “The Law says, Stone the adulteress.” He says, “Go ahead! Grab your stones! But, let the one who has no sin throw the first.”
And what does Francis say, “Go ahead, grab your bricks! and build a wall, but let the one who has never been shown mercy LAY THE FIRST BRICK of it.”
And as far as i know, there’s only one such man in the Americas! Let he who’s “made it all” himself make the wall himself.
How slick a Pope is that!? You know he’s learned from The Teacher!!!
Just like the other Papa, whose words ring in my left ear louder than the tinnitus in my right. i pray his prayer morning, noon and night, what my other Papa taught to me:
“Imprint on our hearts now a deep sense of our obligations for those Incomparable Mercies that have been shown to us as a nation, preserve us from the arrogance of prosperity, and render this country more and more a safe asylum for the unfortunate of this world. Dispose us all to love Mercy and do justice, and to dress ourselves with the same humility, charity, and pacific temper of Him without a humble imitation of whose example we can never hope to be a happy nation, Jesus my Lord!” – General George Washington, Newburgh, N.Y.
Go Figure! The coldest temperatures on record! Everything turned to ice! Slowly the wind makes a change, and the Great Artist brings back the white paint, but only for a few hours, and then Mother Nature changes her mind, or mood, again. Let’s just wipe that off, let’s rinse that away…turn on the water…!?!?! She can’t decide…
So much Confusion! The first Robin of the year appears in our yard, wandering about, as if lost, amid these traces of white and ice and the Great Mother’s whims. A mercury miracle move of 70 degrees in less than 48 hours will do that for sure. Look in her eyes; it’s downright confounding! After she wanders about the yard a while, it has become clear to me that she must be an Italian robin, as she settles on one fine solution to the dilemma, Perché non godere di un antipasto di primavera ?! Why not just enjoy the Antipasto of Spring!?
The quandary that is in dear Robin’s eyes ain’t nothin’ compared to what i see in so many persons’ during these confusing times. The winds of change have us whirling and scared. What will happen to my job? What will become of our home? What will be the future for my children, and for theirs? Who can I trust in this scary world around us? Who is going to lead us? Can I really listen to any of them? Believe anything they say? Each week, when i return to the market, the people appear to me more tired, more anxious, more afraid. My heart aches for them, as it did for the Robinson Robin.
Now i suppose that there are as many answers to these dilemmas as there are presidential aspirators, not to mention congressional ones (the ones who really call the shots.) There are as many solutions as there are religions or spiritualists, maybe as many as there are people. But, having lived most of my life with these good people, i would definitely hail the approach of the Italians. The two words in their word for Spring, Prima and Vera, mean “one, tried and true” or “first and surest”way, as sure as there will come another Spring and then another Summer…that is, that we who trust in God and who live TODAY as best we can will be taken care of. “Give us this day our daily bread…”
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?”Matt.6: 26-27
Though Jesus never met a robin in New York in February or March, or saw how much they do worry at times, bottom line, they deserve our imitation. Perciò, che mangiamo e beviamo. So, let’s eat and let’s drink. Let’s celebrate what we have today. It is the BEST that we can do, as it all that we have, all that we are certain of here on earth.
This is my lovely step-daughter, Bernadette! (Otherwise known as “How would like your steak cooked?”) She is a single mother, working harder than anyone knows, or very few appreciate, at Longhorn Steakhouse. And when it comes to waitressing there aren’t many weekends busier than “President Valentine’s!!!” Between shopping for all the sales and showing all the honeys how loved they are, this spells work, work, WORK for this young lady! And lo, and behold! Bernadette gets scheduled for a Double Double Double, Saturday, Sunday, Monday!
The tales that she tells after such times, or even at the end of ordinary days, are so often sad commentaries on her fellow human beings. Don’t get me – or her – wrong, she does not go there expecting a breeze! But her “tales of entitlement” could fill volumes, one sadder than the other. Often treated like a slave by a large group of malcontents who wear her to the bone, as if they own her, and her existence is meant for them alone. But unable to please them enough over hours of enslavement, she is left a tip of five dollars, when the “law of human-kind-ness” says it should be closer to eighty-five. How many times over the years our sweet, and WE KNOW hard-working, girl has sat down at the end of a day and cried.
But yesterday had such a happy ending, a storybook fairytale finish. There Bernadette was near the end of her second Double, that one being the biggie, Valentine’s Day. She was having a hard enough time just standing up. An hour before the restaurant’s usual closing, there was still over an hour wait-on-line for a table! One kind group of customers detected from her usual bubbly, but now near bubble-bursting, self, that she needed something to keep her going for the last big lap. They asked, “Is there anything we can do for you?” And Bernadette joked. Outside the window, just next door, there’s a Starbuck’s, so she said, just kidding,”You could get me an espresso at Starbuck’s.” To which they said, “Ok.” But they didn’t. And of course they did not have to. She did not expect them to. It was just a laugh.
And then a group entered the restaurant, a bunch of big hungry soldiers, all wearing sunglasses, late at night in a restaurant. They were from West Point, one of our great nation’s premier military academies which is nearby. As it turned out, they had all had eye-corrective surgeries. And they had waited a mighty long time for steaks! They had many a good reason to feel annoyed or entitled, but their eyes spied a little tiny lady on her very last leg, and one asked that very same question, “Is there anything we can do for you?” Bernadette laughed to herself about the last result of her response to that question, but she saw that they each had a Starbuck coffee to help them endure their waiting time, and it made her spurt out, “You could get me an espresso to get me to the end of this night.” How shocked our Bernadette when a soldier jumped to her need. He returned with a DOUBLE-ESPRESSO and a whole big bag of coffee to boot! These men were as tired and hungry and deserving of service as anyone, but they thought of her.
A wonderful Valentine for a wonderful lady! Only, very few ever stop to notice her beauty, that hard-working beauty. Herein lies the great dignity of our military, never appreciated enough. While other people may feel entitled and even demand service without a second thought of the server, they will look through their PERFECTED VISION and see a fellow FRONT-LINER. Waitressing, THEY KNOW, is not for the fainthearted. But they could have let her carry out her task to the end. OR they could show how well they KNOW the ancient code of the True Knight. In the military encyclopedia it is known as “MAGNANIMITY,” and it means “to use one’s power not to destroy but to build, not to dominate but to serve, not to force down but to raise up, to lift one who is tired or downtrodden in any way.” Such souls are among the forgotten EveryDay Valentines of the World.
You might say, Ahh, come on, you are making so much out of such a small thing! Well, i think not. Remember one of the world’s greatest stories of Love, that of Quasimodo for Esmerelda. He gave his very life for her, who had only – she alone – given him a cup of water. At the end of that long day and night these soldiers, who know better than any about chain of command, filed a glowing report to Bernadette’s manager, who saw that she received special Company Rewards for her labors. Small things? i think not…Unless in your world the little ones are the great ones.
Of Valentines 2016, i think we’ve seen Quite a BEAUTY!
From a crystal New York Wood, present temperature 20 below zero fahrenheit, i send the warmest greeting of love to our dear friend in a steamy, sandy land far away. They say that cold makes us warmer inside. But, then again, perhaps it is best that i make this a coooool Valentine to soothe your brow, my Ichabod, my Capuchin in the Middle East.
When you and i were young friars and full of dreams, we studied together the “FRANCIS WAY,” the traditions of St. Francis, while living in Rome. You followed him to that part of the world where he had left a most distinctive footprint, and to this day you try to live his “impossible dream” of seeing and treating everyone there as friend and as part of your greater family. Whenever i think of people like you, whom i am so honored to call my brother, that ancient story comes back to my mind like some favorite tune. It came out of your region of the world, the Persian legend of a little bird who, upon discovering a great fire in the forest, flies to a nearby stream and picks up droplets of water, flying back and forth to do its part in saving the forest. A frog nearby says, “FOOL! What do you think you are doing?” The bird simply answers, “I love the forest. I have to try.” On its next fly-over the flames reach up and swallow him. So many would call you a fool, Fr. Ichabod, for daring to attempt such a quest. But you are in great company, for that is what they called the Assisian and all of his little brothers who have gone there before you.
Today’s blog – on the actual Valentine’s Day – will be a kind of summary of this whole week of Valentining You, of telling people far and wide about your kind of love, since this is really all about YOUR being God’s Valentine, God’s Love-Letter, God’s clear reflection in the world.
JUST LOOK at what a mirror creation can be!! Sometimes you cannot tell the copy from the Original. That is how it’s meant to be – with our Love reflecting God’s.
My mind just keeps taking me back to Mr. Tolkien, of whom i spoke days ago. A man most brilliant with an imagination beyond limit! And yet he was such an ordinary man, of the simplest tastes and old-fashioned virtues, a man of utter fidelity to his wife of 55 years before she passed. Tolkien is called the “Father of Fantasy” for his writings, especially “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings.” He had personally, intimately, experienced war, in fact THE WAR, the BIG ONE, the first to involve THE WORLD! Every one of his colleagues died. He alone survived to tell the tale, and he did so in a spectacular way, HOPING against HOPE that the likes of it would never be seen again. (Only months after publication Hitler invaded Austria.) As spectacular as the epic story is, what stands out the most are the author’s idea of true heroes. They say it flowed very much from Tolkien’s own personal experience of his leaders in military, once writing to his wife of “how rare it is to find a human being among them!” His heroes instead were very human, generally quiet, humble, and lovers of peace. Willing to fight, of course, if they had to, if there was good reason to, but good reason had to be fully consulted first.
When i called you a “modern day,” and more importantly a “Real-Life” Baggins, Ichabod, i did so not in any trite or flighty way. To be such a man, a gentle-man so in love with the Earth and all of its creatures, is never any small task or quest.
So i made this Ichabod Blog, i made this Valentine with the artistic assistance of my own Molly, mainly to tell my friend how much i admire him, and, though there may be so many miles (and degrees of temperature) between us, i feel our Oneness more than ever. And secondly, the wonderful fact that this Valentine was opened and read on 6 of the 7 continents (haven’t reached the mobs in Antarctica yet!), i am so happy to know that the “tales of Ichabod” have brought you many more brothers and sisters to love you and to pray for you. What is your message to the world? Not that everyone must become some missionary to a foreign land, that all must risk life or limb to make peace with Muslims in Iraq or Syria, but if only to have minds opened a bit wider and hearts stretched a bit further to get the whole bigger picture…
“Saint Icky,” from my frigid yet clear forest i offer this Valentine prayer for you. Lord, take our anxieties, our fears, our doubts…confusion…anger…rage…anything that might stir our soul-waters and so blur our reflections of You, Who created us to be your mirrors. Let us share Your Stillness with all we meet this day. Keep our Ichabod safe in your Love, where even if his body be harmed, he will know Perfect Joy. Amen.
Let’s get back to Ichabod…somewhere in the sands of the Middle East…
But first, let me say that whenever my eyes feel dusty and in need of a good rinse, whenever my soul feels heavy and dark and needs a little lightening, i turn on the YouTube and look for Mr. Bean on his Holiday. A hop-skip-n-jump to Paris, where he awaits his train to Cannes. With time to kill and a hungry belly, Bean enters a restaurant and is whisked to a seat and assured – in words he does not understand – “YOU’LL LOVE THIS!” Though London and Paris are so very close on a map, French taste and English taste may as well be planets apart, but BEAN BEees NICE and gives us a laugh to cleanse body and soul. He tries to eat, and what he just can’t he GIVES to the lady at the next table. LOLOL!
It is awesome, because we have all been there, all heard those words, scary words, before. Even scarier the plate before us! And we have sometimes been nice – and tried. Other times we have thought, “Eat it? I can’t even look at it! No way!” Once, when i was still just a young English-American, very unfamiliar with the world’s cuisines, satisfied with toast and butter, i was invited to an Italian house – and i mean REAL ITALIAN – where dinner went from One P.M. to Nine P.M. NON-STOP!!! i played nicee nicee nice, the best that i could, hearing “Provalo, ti piacerà” (Try it, you’ll like it!) a hundred times. i know, i know, i know, they meant well, they were so caring, so kind! But i was so sick to my stomach, i wanted to die!
WHY AM i TELLING THIS STORY? Because a similar thing happened in recent years in the Middle East with a result that could not possibly be less comical, less funny, more tragic. Some foreigners came into Iraq, they swore they had good intentions (let me even presume here that they did – somewhat). Many many people greeted them with joy and gratitude. But then they offered a dish, no, a platter; no, a whole gigantic plan, including a new “way of life.” i can still see a rejoicing, boasting George W. Bush, and hear him say, “Everything’s gonna be great! They’re gonna LOVE freedom and democracy!!!”
Now LOOK AT MR. BEAN’s FACE and try not to laugh. That is the reaction-historic, but it is NOT FUNNY AT ALL! The catastrophic MESS that now exists in the Middle East can well be traced to misstep after mistake, misunderstanding after miscalculation, miscue after misread, misperception after misinterpretation. All of these misses, small or grand, now spell MESS on an epic scale, of truly global proportions. You can’t expect millions of people to just love hotdogs – let alone to go nuts for American liberty – just because this treasure which is all you’ve ever known tastes so good to you.
As Peter Jackson must see the whole picture now, we have simply, sadly, shaken the meanest, nastiest dragon that the human race has ever faced. Except this one is not on a massive theater screen. This one’s FOR REAL! Terrible pain and destruction are absolutely inevitable. A millennial-old Beast that was born of the fiery Hatred between Christians and Muslims has been awakened from its sleep. The effects, beyond words, have already been felt around the world. And the remaining humans live in a mixture of grave fear and grave determination to fight to the death.
AND THEN THERE’S ICHABOD! Remember him? This is how i started this story, this incredibly true story days ago. This story resembles that great epic tale in more ways than the dragon. Dragons will always make big stars. But the whole point of Mr. Tolkien and his pal, C.S.Lewis, and their Epic Tales, which were inspired in the foxholes of real-live World Wars, is that the SUPERSTARS are the little guys, the LITTLEST GUYS, in fact, like Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and Ichabod! (Doesn’t he just fit right in?) i often wonder whether Tolkien imagined St. Francis, whom he knew so well, when he sketched his very first barefoot hobbit? Could the little man from Assisi, who might well be called the “most fearless warrior in history,” when he kept his humble, peaceful Baggins beside those journeymen, always encouraging them to keep their heads and examine their hearts, asking, Why did this happen? What was it all about anyway? Gold? Power? Who really wants it anyway? Questions, questions, questions…which, if honestly confronted, could humble the worst Giant.
AND THERE IS ICHABOD, my old friend, my own trusted companion, fortified by the Love of God and directed by the humble wisdom of the first in his line of hobbits – i MEAN FRIARS!! Sorry about that! Somehow he has the courage to “engage the Beast directly,” one might say, the beast living, breathing inside these men he knows to be his “brothers.” He can engage, especially as he knows his intentions are right. He is not out to force anyone “to eat his food or follow his path or lead his lifestyle.” He is simply trying to understand everyone he meets and to point every child to the very best in their varied traditions, as both religions are religions of peace…at the core. Of course the dragon is frightful. He could rise up and just react to this man, not give him a chance, and devour him. Ichabod knows that, just as he knows that “the Great Dragon of the West,” just as scary, might fly over someday – and strike him along with everyone else.. It is a very scary existence, yes, but fear is far smaller than faith, or hope, or love. And that is the triple-edged sword that Ichabod carries with him.
Carry on, buddy. Peace.