Posted by: Peadar Ban | February 13, 2015

The Man, The Boy and The Story

I cannot now remember the time for the beginning of the first leg of our journey home from Barcelona on February 8 last.  All I remember is that it was Sunday, and Sunday quiet when we awoke.  And that may have been the reason we were almost an hour late; that and the fact that we’d forgotten to set the alarm correctly.  Nevertheless we dressed, breakfasted and were in the lobby several minutes – time enough – before our limo driver arrived.  I do remember that it was a bright and beautiful day.

Through deserted streets we moved unobstructed and unaccompanied.  In place of the floods of buses, cars and people that had been the normal accompaniment to our comings and goings during the week just ended, silence on this last short, bright and quiet ride.  It was lovely and we both, I think, were thankful for the soft, sweet farewell from the city and the day.  As far as I could tell from internet weather reports we were beginning a long day’s journey into a Dantesque scene of snow, wind, cold, ice and misery in what is shaping up to be Boston’s worst winter since; well since there has been a Boston, Massachusetts.

There was good chance, we both thought, that the London to Boston leg of our journey home would be delayed while the expected storm over there did its worst.  As I thought about that I prayed it wouldn’t happen; wanting my own bed come, no matter, what may.

With those kinds of thoughts on our minds we gathered our bags and bravely pushed through the doors into the departure terminal at Barcelona’s nearly brand new, nifty, bright and shiny airport.  The mystery of all of the people missing from the streets of Barcelona was solved immediately.  They were here!  In front of us a hive swarmed, everyone a worker bee.  And all we needed to do was drop our own pollen load of luggage with the appropriate receiving bee perched between counter and conveyor belt, and find a place to sit and wait.

Easier said, don’t you know.

As we stood looking about us the thought occurred to me that such a thing as identifying one particular drop of water in all the ocean from every other one might be an easier, maybe even a more sane and useful, exercise.  We wandered left.  We wandered right.  And then we repeated our maneuvers, breasting in every direction the flood of folks all of whom, unlike us, moved with purpose, intent and direction.  They knew where to go; knew what to do.  One could see it in their eyes, their posture, their pace.  The lost are always timid.

There is nothing so dismaying, I think, as being lost in a strange place far from home; lost amid strangers to whom such an anxiety is utterly foreign.  It should have a name, this feeling; something akin I guess to Hansel’s and Gretel’s in that dark forest.  I was about to be overcome by H&G Syndrome and drop to my knees in search of bread crumbs when I looked behind me and my eyes met those of a nice woman at one of the six or seven hundred auto rental counters.  She smiled and I walked over to ask her an Important Question.  Where the hell were we, and how did we find and get to where we wanted and needed to go?!

It took her about ten seconds to solve our problem.  Why not?  She practically lived in the hive.  Within a few minutes, solution given and received and satisfaction obtained we found ourselves in the slowly moving line, Al-Qaeda’s and Islam’s great cultural legacy: the pre-boarding security check.

That done, all that remained was to find a place to sit and wait.  That place was the two chairs at the end of a short row one level deeper into the hive and a dozen or so yards in front of the Duty Free shop, one of dozens of glitzy, glamorous, shiny, polished and expensive pocket picking devices for people like us; people simply waiting, waiting, waiting.  The other attraction, perhaps the more beneficial for mental and spiritual health in a place like that is People Watching, which may have been the original spectator sport.  Being a native New Yorker, and that city being a place which affords no shortage of opportunity and material, I was born to the sport of sitting and watching the world go by – almost literally.

As we took our seats to observe as much of the “game” as we might I noticed the other seats in our row were filled with odd bits of clothing and belongings; a jacket or two, a bag or three and one old fellow , a sturdy man, thickly framed, with a full head of salt and pepper hair; moderately well dressed.  My memory of him sitting, simply watching, waiting, guarding?, reminds me now of some old lion.  There was indeed a sort of quiet nobility to his still watchfulness.  We exchanged a brief look at each other, a glance and the slightest nod.  Then he returned to his business and I to mine; between us the arm rest and history.  Good fences…

An hour passed at least during which I shared an orange with Mariellen next to me quietly reading one of her Kindle books, and walked once or twice to the large non-portable electronic device announcing where our boarding gate for the flight to London would be.  My lion-like seat mate did not stir, except for once when he rose to make room among the belongings scattered along three of the remaining six chairs in our row to accommodate a woman of a certain age I took to be his wife.  She, like him, was generously proportioned and neatly dressed.  They spoke for a while, their conversation sounding to me as if they were from eastern Europe, perhaps from the Balkans; Slavs of one kind or another, whose ancestors may have marched across this very spot thousands of years ago behind some Greek or Roman general.

She left him after a while, plunging back into the ocean of glittering shops in front of us, and he returned to his stoic and silent guarding.  But, it wasn’t too long before I saw his wife coming back with what could only be the rest of the family; herself, a son and daughter-in-law (or the other way round) and the grandson, a young boy with a young boy’s excited face and eager voice.  He was especially excited to show his grandfather some small thing he carried; a game, a souvenir, an important object.

And here an amazing thing began to happen.  The three others stood around taking, poking through the luggage and the packages, moving, re-arranging, being very busy, being very grown-up and, well, responsible.  Not so these two; so close to me I could hear every word, could almost feel their breath.

He looked at what the boy held out to him and reached for it.  The young fellow put it into his big hand and stood still, eyes fixed on the old man, eyes for no one else.  While looking toward the Duty Free shop I could see both of them next to me clearly; and so, I watched.  And listened.  I listened for, you will understand, I knew every word they were speaking as if it was my native tongue.

“I had one of those when I was your age,” he said to the boy; who answered, a bit amazed, “You did?!”  “Yes,” he answered quietly, slowly.  “Yes, I had one long ago when I was young and everything was different.”

Then the child, who held again in his hand what his grandfather had had so long ago; the child was quiet, looking from his object to his grandfather.  No one else was present in the whole huge space.  I wasn’t there, nor his family, nor the crowds flowing by, nor the shiny stores full of shoppers.  No one else but this boy and that man.

He moved closer to his grandfather who lifted him up out of the world to his lap and wrapped him in his left arm; his right kept free to hold the Object the boy had now given back to him.  The boy looked at him and said, “Tell me, Grandfather.”

For the next ten or fifteen or however many minutes, there next to me yet far away, in a language I had never heard yet perfectly understood, the man, the old lion, told his story of the Object he once had to the little boy, the cub.  I couldn’t help but listen and hear the story told.  It was a story I had heard myself when I was a child. The same one I had told to my children, to my grandchildren when they were little boys and girls; little boys and girls who had climbed into my lap and sat within my arms and close to my heart.  And my story used the same, the very same, words he used.

Just as my own children and grandchildren did, so did the little boy, who from time to time could not help interrupting to ask a question; not so much to clarify a point, but rather to redirect the story where he hoped it would go.  And sometimes, so I could tell from Grandfather’s tone, and the young fellow’s smile and gleeful wiggle, why, the story went exactly where he wanted it to go.  But there were times, and the same times occurred in the same stories I told, that what the hearer wanted to hear could not be told.

Then would come the questions always asked during the telling of the Story, “Why?”, or “Why not?”.  I heard this several times as the story was unfolding, and heard eager young explanations for why the Story should move one way or another.

But this Grandfather knew, as Grandfathers have ever known, the how and the why of a story, no matter the Object, and its proper ending.  And he told it well as for nearly all of twenty minutes, while those in the other place worked on packages and luggages, the Old Man and the Young Boy sat away and spoke, listened and lived a Story.

It ended of course.  Every story will.  And they made ready to leave.  The three people had packed away what needed to be packed away.  And the boy got down from the Old Man’s lap.  He stood in front of him with his Object once more in his hand.

The others had gone ahead, already passing the last of the little archipelago of phone booths just beyond our own resting and waiting place, as Grandfather stood up, slowly as grandfathers do, and straightened up, slowly as grandfathers do.  While the Boy waited, the Old Woman stopped, turned and urged the two, still returning from where they had been, to hurry.  The Old Man put on his jacket, and, now quite erect, put out his hand to the little boy.

Who, turning, took it.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 28, 2014

Today, December 28, 2014: The Feast of The Holy Family

One of the things I really like about being lucky enough to have been born a Catholic, one of the most comfortable things for me about my faith, is what we call the Liturgical Year; the observation of the passage of time in quite a different way that the rest of the world does it.  Of course, as a subset of the Liturgical Year, with its Feast Days and Seasons quite different from civil holidays and the four seasons (and in the case of the former, quite a bit more) there is the division of each and every day of the year into the Hours, times of prayer at set periods throughout the day which call the mind and heart and body away from tasks and troubles to the another space, another place, to live and work in.  This I like.

We left early this morning, a bit before 6:00am, to cross the river to the church where we provide the music for Mass every Sunday.  It was warm for late December, the jacket I was wearing just a little more than I’d thought I needed only a few seconds ago getting ready to leave.  It was still quite dark.  A light rain fell, softly, gently, its droplets falling from the bare branches of the weeping cherry just outside the door.  One or two early rising birds were just beginning their first soft songs in the dark stillness under the clouds.

As we walked to the car I noticed how thick the night seemed outside the ring of light from the lamp, timed to stay until dawn, shining on our little Nativity out front. No other house but one at the top of our little hill was lit any longer.  We had come home on Christmas Eve after Mass to a blaze of light, so many kinds and colors of light, strung on trees and hedges, across doors, around bushes, outlining garages and mailboxes; steady lights, spot lights, blinking lights, red, green and blue lights, white lights all over on figures, animals, great glowing balloons and tiny little Santas; even the occasional lit Nativity at the front lawn or near the front door.

But, now, they were gone as if they had never been, and windows once more were dark and blind, shrubs stripped of winding cascading lights, Christmas trees invisible if, in fact, they were still there.  No delighted children scampered about from gift to gift in the early morning while bleary eyed Moms and Dads held coffee cups or cameras and watched.  Christmas unfold.  The secular variety which begins just a little before Thanksgiving day now, was over, and had been since sundown on Christmas day.

As we drove down the hill toward Manchester Street on the way to St. John’s I saw the faint blush low in the east, just under a break in the cloud blanket covering the rest of the sky; day’s first light.  A dull sort of pink, yet hopeful as are all daybreak moments I thought.  And yes, I saw there were still some homes where light brightened, braved, night’s deep loneliness.  On a hill two blocks away another nativity, perhaps the last but ours, lit the dark front of a little house.  And down the street we turned before going out on Manchester there were two more houses  holding the Christmas line.

We passed others on the way.  The trip is about ten minutes long, and there may have been twice that many homes still “keeping Christmas” if the lights about them were any sign.  Twenty homes out of how many?  I’d say easily two hundred.  Five percent.

Well, attendance at Mass this morning was quite in keeping with the experience of Christmas lights on homes and grounds along the way there.  I was happy though for the company kept.  Most of the people who were there I see every week,  The others?  They’ll be back at Easter, God willing.

They live in a different time than I do.  Is trua mor!

Pope Francis began his Christmas homily like this: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Is 9:1). “An angel of the Lord appeared to (the shepherds) and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Saviour: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.”

One of the other things I like about being a Catholic is the Church’s emphasis on the metaphor of light for oh, so many things, including heaven, our destination.  It’s occurred to me quite a bit during the past few days as I’ve watched the lights go out…all over the world?…this light “meme”.  And, here, right in front of me, all around me, so many folks seem to be choosing to “dwell in darkness”.

It’s not a happy thought to think on the Feast of the Holy Family.

“Lighten up!” I can hear some guys I know saying, as they switch to the ball game.

No matter.  Light has come.

The Holy Family!  This is light!

Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 26, 2014

A Letter to My Doctor

I will soon see my doctor.  It will be time for my annual visit with the nice lady, and wanting her to be prepared, I thought writing her a little note describing what was going on with me since we last met would be a good thing to do.  She is good company, and I think of her as less my doctor and more a hostess.  She has lovely eyes.  On our first meeting I called attention to that fact.  She smiled (a lovely smile) and said, “That is what my name means.”  How good of her parents to notice, I thought, and God to provide.

December 26, 2014
Dear Dr. G.
   I thought I would write down a few things which have occurred, are occurring now, and may continue to occur right up until we meet again sometime in a few weeks; an encounter which I trust will be as interesting to you as it is to me. As a help, then, to your work, and a help, also, to me on the morning after Christmas when things are so quiet I must do something, anything I’ll begin. May it amuse you and be as pleasant a pastime reading, as it amuses me and passes my time pleasantly in the writing.
   I visited my dermatologist’s office a couple of weeks ago. The P.A. who has been looking at my warts, carbuncles, and pre-cancerous keratoses for these several years (A direct result of my “Cheap Irish Skin”, a condition no doubt dealt with extensively in the literature, a separate diagnosis in itself, a chapter ending in the term “hopelessly untreatable” .) took great interest in that red thing which I have chosen to think of as my own “Great Red Spot”, a rival to Jupiter’s of the same name, and wondered what I was doing for it…aside from regular feedings. I told him of your prescription, and he said he could burn it off with his cold gas canister which more resembles a plumber’s soldering torch than anything I’ve ever seen in a Doctor’s Office. That leads me to wonder how closely the two “arts” are related. “Fine!” I said. He applied his suggested treatment. Today, as I stepped from the shower and dried off my right leg, I swear it winked at me. I shall return to the “roids” this evening. It had diminished in size, and I wonder, now, if it hadn’t simply reached a more healthy weight.
   Moving a little lower on my right leg, I noticed that my Great Toe (Not yet a tourist attraction along the lines of the Great Barrier Reef, but I have hopes.) began on its own initiative, and without the normal “stubbing” against a wall, a chair leg, or a naughty child’s backside, to hurt like hell. I cannot remember ever having mistreated it in such a fashion that it would seek a prolonged and painful revenge lasting quite long enough for me to consider its amputation on at least one occasion; I was that angry at its behavior. For a while, each evening as I tried sweet reason, it would glare up at me, red with anger on its upper right side, and I feared it would begin to affect the other toes behaviors. No such thing has yet occurred, but, though it has not continued to scream each time I pull a stocking on, it does let me know that its anger lurks not too far from the surface; its occasional growls and continuing sour disposition reminding me of our falling out; whose reason puzzles though as yet does not worry me too much. I have given up, though, all thought of attempting a career in my retirement as a “kicker” of field goals and such.
   We jump now to my elbows, carefully please, they are fragile things; both of which were the occasion for our last brief visit. And, both of which you expertly diagnosed as being guilty of tendonitis. My left elbow is still the worst offender, though it affords me the grudging liquidity of enough movement to allow the tying of a bow tie without too much pain. The right elbow, while not as angry with me as its sibling, is reluctant to help in such tasks as hand shaking without stabbing (but entirely bearable) pain during such things as closing my hand tightly on an object, or even on nothing. Funnily enough, there is nothing of the sort taking place when I do this with my left hand…in either elbow. Neither is there pain in my left elbow, when I grasp something with my right hand. I have managed to understand how the latter of these conditions is the case, but, I do not understand why my left elbow is so sanguine about my left hand grasping something when my right elbow forbids such a thing.
   You may have to read the preceding paragraph more than once. I wrote it, and I cannot understand it even now without two readings. That says something, I suppose, about my mind; a matter which may frighten or intrigue you. I will say I have never taken mind altering drugs, though I did work in Washington, D.C., for three years when a much younger person. Therein may lie a reason and a diagnosis.
   In any event, my right elbow hurts when I shake hands. Oddly enough it seems to hurt me more when I shake the hand of a person I do not particularly wish to shake hands with. ( I apologize for the prepositional ending. I did try.) Try as I might to prevent it, I sometimes will find my right arm extending itself autonomously in such situations; the resulting pain causes a slight grimace which is at least not good manners. The excuse of tendonitis, while effective and facile, is wearing thin among the suspicious; some of whom are relatives. I suppose I could start using my left hand, but I know there are many who would accuse me of effete affectation. Maybe I will just stop shaking hands altogether. I have learned. almost, the art of drinking a pint of ale with my left hand.
   I’m coming to the end, Doctor, and both of us must be happy for that. I know I am. When I started this, I hoped it wouldn’t be too long. I still hold out hope. To that end I’ve not talked about anything between my shoulders and my hips. There may be children around, you know.
   Both of my hips hurt, the tin one and the one that doesn’t exist anymore; the right side one. But, though I cannot run, either as far or as fast as once long ago, I am more careful crossing a street as a result, and have grown used to the difference in the length of my legs.  It also helps that no one is chasing me.  My feet are another problem. They both hurt all the time such that if my elbows were in better shape I’d give serious thought to learning to walk with my hands. (Now, there’s a solution to my hand shaking problem!)
   I spoke with my daughter, and one or two old guys who have experience in the matter. “Sit down more!” one said. My daughter suggested I talk to you about it. She’s a nurse and doesn’t want me to sue her for bad medical advice I guess. But she did suggest I pay more attention to my shoes. I have started polishing them more regularly, but I suspect this may not be enough.
   Finally, standing for more than ten or so minutes begins to hurt my lower back, too, leading me to think that my lumbar spine is taking on the properties of what the northerners call “corn snow”, though I cannot think how that would occur. I’ve never frozen my spine, though I have on occasion nearly frozen my butt off.
   I shall end, now, and hope that your New Year is a pleasant and happy one. Mine certainly will be.  Approaching the clubhouse turn in this race as I am, I look forward with some eagerness to the home stretch and the finish and the trip to the Winner’s Circle before a nice cool down and the green pastures.
Healthy regards,
PS: You may always call me Peter. The only people who call me Mr. Gallaher are police officers and librarians.  I’ll continue to call you Doctor, of course.  It’s my thought it should be the case unless one’s on the golf course with a doctor.  Then, unless one beats one’s doctor like a rented mule, first names are just fine.  Should he lose, of course, one owes him the shred of dignity attending on all those years of medical school, etc.; not to mention all that money and time spent with the Pro.  I did show this little note to my long suffering wife.  She smiled, and probably said a prayer for you.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | December 1, 2014

A Child’s Poem

(About A Book, a Word)

Long ago in the great before
Nothing was.  Not any more
As is is now. So shall it be
Seen, and felt as wood and tree
For home and hearth, for leaf and limb,
And wing of bird, and song to sing.

The Great Before remains, unchanged,
Beyond, behind, throughout; arranged
Unseen within each living thing;
Un-living too, and in, between,
The smallest bit, each galaxy,
Your eyes, sky blue, and even me!

We will see when all will end
And seeing we will cry, “Amen!”
A soundless cry just once we’ll give
And having cried and loved we’ll live
Inside Amen, inside Before
Forever and forever more.

Dec. 1, 2014

“(T)he Book of Nature reflects the Book of Scripture and in both (one) reads only a single word, the divine Logos.”
Stratford Caldecott, in “NOT As The World Gives”

Posted by: Peadar Ban | November 28, 2014

Make A Broom Beautiful

Make A Broom Beautiful
(A Poem About Life)

Make a broom beautiful
The sewer to sweep clean.
Polish the stones beneath your feet.
Kindly kill the Ox you’ll eat
And with shining blade carve neat
Its cared for flesh, and you will
Have God served, done His will
To love what He has made;
His Word, good child, obeyed.


Posted by: Peadar Ban | November 28, 2014

Ha Ha!

A Very Serious Poem

Atoms themselves are beautiful things
Electrons’ clouds and protons’ haze
Moving rhythmically … ’til vision stays,
Pins them in the tiniest space.
“A system,” say scientists!
“A jewel dangling from God’s wrist,”
I say who see things they overlook:
A quark’s bright smile, while who took
The pattern of its brief flight,
A bright line in the chamber’s night,
See just numbers; ranged at end
For conferences, symposia
And miss Mu Meson’s hearty laugh
Descending to its particle bath.

God’s bright charge is throughout all.
It’s truth about the world.
Bulk and marvel of the machine
It’s dials that twirl, it’s silv’ry screens
Block beauty to be seen. Unheard
Too, laughter, God’s ever smiling Word.

November 28, 2014

Posted by: Peadar Ban | November 18, 2014

Today: November 18, 2014

It is the 109th Anniversary of her birth, Eleanor Rita Downs-Gallaher.  Simply Nell.  Somewhere, it is my ever present hope, she dances brightly before God who must have had dancing in mind, and gentle fun, and all good things, when he conceived my mother in his heart and placed her soul in the body being prepared for it inside her mother’s womb.  If ever there was a “blithe spirit”, she was.  Everything I remember of her was as Shelley put it.  She was unpremeditated art.  I loved her first.  Or maybe it was she who loved me.  I cannot tell.  But, my first love was her.  My last living memory of her is the old woman in the hospital gone but for her beating heart, whose eyes brightened opening wide as she saw me enter her room; whose mouth opened in unspoken exclamation of surprise and joy; whose arms reached for me as I approached. “Mom,” I said, and took the hand she reached for me with, and held it until I left.

It was enough then, that last touching, to remember all those other times with her, around her, and to feed the hope I have today, the hope never far away, of feeling her touch again, and hearing her voice say, “Hello, Dolly.  I missed you.”  “I missed you, too, Mom.”

Now the trees are almost bare.  A bright sun barely makes it above the wall of lace like oak branches behind the houses just across the street.  Its patterned light dances into the living room on the wind that moves the shadows back and forth while the chimes outside ring Autumn’s first real frost, a threat of winter, down from the arctic breeding grounds, inevitable and unwelcome.  I’ll probably have to rake those last tens of thousands of leaves soon, fill the bags and pray no snow falls before they’re taken away on Thursday.  I don’t want them plastered to the lawn all winter under two or three feet of snow.  They’re the “divil’s own” then.  But, I’ll be honest, I don’t feel at all happy about doing it today.

The wind roars now, as if to say, “Come out!  You and your rake, O Man!  I challenge you, the Cold Wind from the Ice Sea and Deep Frozen Waste to fight me.” Global warming.  Yeah, right!

I think I’ll make another cup of tea; have some oatmeal.  April and raking look entirely possible right now.

It’s funny.  When I first awoke and came down to the kitchen to put on the kettle for the tea there was just a faint glow of day-not-yet over east, down low, just above my neighbor’s big green bushes.  The only breeze that could have been came from the wings of birds, cardinals, titmice, house finches and one chesty wren.  No skylarks, though.  They’re probably on a flight to Florida, now.

Then I picked up my book after the tea was in its cup and sat down in the room now almost empty of books; the room we call our oratory, blessed for that use by our pastor some years ago.  Stratford Caldecott, may he rest in peace, (say hello, Mom, if you happen to meet him) is the author.  It’s one of his last books, Not As the Word Gives: The Way of Creative Justice, and a beautiful work, as is everything he did it seems to me; and now does I am sure.  He is speaking about technology where I am now, and discussing some of the things he thinks we ought to be thinking about.  He writes:

(T)echnology always has purposes of its own , or (if you prefer) an implicit logic that we accept when we buy into the machine for its own purposes.  Technology represents an entire world view, an organizing myth for our culture, and increasingly it is coming to shape the way we view and experience our own bodies and those of our children.  (That sentence chilled me.)

Up until now , the Church has tended to go along with the general view that technological progress is benign and in any case irresistible.  Christians must simply make the best of it.  Every new invention may be used for good or ill; the Church should simply discourage its use for ill.  If technologies in themselves are not morally or culturally neutral after all, then this policy needs to be re-examined.  The crisis over human cloning is likely to force such a re-examination in any case, for now even many scientists and technicians are asking: “are some kinds of knowledge so terrible they should not be pursued?”

I’ve stopped there and simply been thinking.  One of the first things that occurred to me was whether or not any one of our ancient ancestors raised a question about the first use of a rock to bash open the head of a rabbit, or the snare that had been used to catch it?  And, what was the answer he got from the rest of the band?


Well, it’s just a little after 9:00 AM.  I took a look out the window just now, and gave a listen to the wind thrumming through the trees.  Down the block, a couple of hundred yards from here, a few oaks stand poking up from a hollow behind a friend’s home.  Oak leaves are tough little buggers, the last to go every year.  On one of the trees they hang on in a triangular bundle against the wind, below the sun; like a shield.  A thousand bronze leaves, two thousand, flash bright in the breeze dazzling the beast wind from far away.  Had I them in front of me, bright and bronze, I think I’d take wind’s dare and face him; brazened behind my leaf legions.

God awaits you. So, wherever you are, you must commit yourself to imitating him and uniting yourself to him, cheerfully, lovingly, keenly, though circumstances might require you – even permanently – to go against the grain.God awaits you – and needs you to be faithful.

– St. Josemaria Escriva, The Forge, #51

Psalm 103: 11-12

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Life in Christ

Everyone should observe an appropriate reserve concerning persons’ private lives. Those in charge of communications should maintain a fair balance between the requirements of the common good and respect for individual rights. Interference by the media in the private lives of persons engaged in political or public activity is to be condemned to the extent that it infringes upon their privacy and freedom.

Here is a selection from the music of John Tavener, one of my favorite composers, “Hymn To the Mother of God”.  One of the commenters mentions that Tavener said he composed it for his mother.  I can certainly do no better.  For you, Mom:


Posted by: Peadar Ban | November 14, 2014

Today: November 14, 2014

They lied again, the dogs of weather men..and women..permitting the weak of heart to believe they were to be frozen solid in their sleep over night and buried in a blanket of snow nine feet deep.  All this was predicted, and worse, as the result of some wayward storm thousands of miles away that occupied their attention and filled with fear the weak and  strong alike from Anchorage to the Athens of the West built on mud scoured from Massachusetts Bay.  Today is bright and sunny, but cold I’ll grant, and sparkling from the gentle rain that drifted down from the quiet clouds overnight.  April in November it is, and all the more welcome for the shame it brings to them who worry innocents with their “forecasts of danger”; all false and flummery; as far from truth as is the East from the West.

“Bad cess to them!” as my father’s mother, Catherine Anne Fanning-Gallaher of happy memory, would say, her tongue between her teeth to keep the deeper curses held back from causing more woe, and her fist raised to heaven as pledge of their  power and her determination.  Who once payed them any attention shouldn’t do so any longer.

It is a beautiful day today, predictions of our descent to the Ninth Circle aside.  The sky is clear from here to eternity, Our Lady’s mantle blue across its uncluttered dome so bright it’s nearly blinding; crimson and gold leaves floating, fluttering gently down alone or in pairs, no breeze to disturb their gentle descent to well deserved rest; the last few remainabove on naked branches before they too let go, sure of a place to spend the winter and pass into memory.

Today, it’s the Feast of St. Laurence O’Toole (Lorcan Ua Tuathaill, in the Irish), the Archbishop of Dublin, and before that the Abbot of one of the most beautiful places in the world, The Abbey of Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains, not more than thirty or so miles from Dublin.  He was born in an age that saw quite a few saints, Anselm and Albert the Great, Thomas Becket and Hildegard; Aquinas and Francis and many more up and down Europe and through the alphabet A to Z, (St. Zita in 1252..if you really want to know.)  I like the fact that he had dealings with Henry II of England and lived to tell the tale.

There’s this I love about the Holy Mother Church, besides so many other things:  it is the Liturgical Year with its seasons and saints feast days.  Most of the time I’m not wandering through the Summer and the rest of them seasons; not counting the days to the next holiday or the next shopping season; not wondering how far away the weekend is and the next ball game.  Most of the time, I’m counting the Sundays, and the time from and too the next big feast, the next season of preparation or penance, or joyful celebration.  And along with that, I’m in the company of fellows like the good Archbishop from Dublin who lived for a while an a cave on the side of a mountain.

Anyway, an Archbishop Lorcan or two might be useful these days.  I’ll pray they come along.  I know one or two who might already be here.

As for the weather, it comes and it goes.  What matters is that it’s still here, don’t you think?

Reflections from the Saints

True charity means returning good for evil – always.

– St. Mary Mazzarello

One Minute Meditations

Positions. Who’s in, who’s out? What does it matter to you? You have come, you tell me, to be useful, to serve, with complete availability. Behave accordingly.

– St. Josemaria Escriva

Scripture Verse of the Day

Matthew 5:8

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Life in Christ: Catechism #2488

The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.

Here is a song about St. Laurence filmed at Glendalough (The Valley of the Lake):

And here is a poem I wrote a couple of years ago after we had been to Glendalough a couple of times.  The place is as kind to cattle today as it was 1600 years ago, and in St. Laurence’s time, too.  St. Kevin’s cave is still there, the same cave St. Laurence used when he went to the monastery on retreats:


Between two lakes St. Kevin’s small church stands.
Nearby he lived, in a tree, in a cave,
And stood still so long birds lived in his hands;
He, lost in prayer, by the edge of the lake.

Cattle pastured in the meadows he walked.
Their milk sweet and thick with yellow cream.
“Was it only he was there?” They talked
Among themselves who lived near Kevin’s stream,

“Wisha, isn’t he always with bright Christ,
Patrick and the holy twelve and each one
A gift of grace on us all day and night?
What wonder milk is thick with sweetness then.

Isn’t it the way of heaven for us here
The soft open hand of generosity,
The kind word in the songs of birds and trees,
Above the hills the smiling Trinity.”

November 25, 2004

Posted by: Peadar Ban | October 29, 2014

Italy: A Vacation Which Became a Pilgrimage (Part Five)

The Alien Planet

There is in Greek mythology, and, who knows, maybe Roman, too, a place way up North where things are bright and sunny, fields green, rivers sparkly and clear.  For the life of me I can’t remember the name they gave it.  And, maybe the whole thing is a figment of my imagination.  In any event, as we stood in the line waiting to board I played with the idea, thinking how cool it would be to land in a northern version of Honolulu and be met at the gate by lovely ladies singing sweet songs.  Of course, instead of being dressed in brightly colored skin tight diaphanous wraps these ladies would be wearing seal skin robes and boots, carrying spears and waving shiny sharp broad swords.  The sweet songs would be war chants and funeral dirges.  But the sun would shine.  Yes it would I thought, and Viking long ships would be everywhere.  Somewhere among the crowd would be Tony Curtis, the only Norseman ever to have a Bronx accent, and Kirk Douglas: chin dimple looking like nothing so much as a volcanic crater.

We sat on the left side of the plane.  It didn’t matter to me as long as I got the aisle.  My leg was killing me, and night had fallen…plop.  Perhaps I’d be able to doze off for an hour or so of the five it would take climbing up the world to Reykjavik.  They served us something to eat whose one redeeming feature was that it was neither too hot nor too cold; and it was small.  Goldilocks might even have liked it for those qualities at least.  It was also forgettable.  The noise started.  And, the lights went out.

I am told that the flight from Boston to Reykjavik is somewhere in the vicinity of five hours.  It was with some curiosity then that at about that much time after we had taken off I peeked out of the window and around the thing that was sticking out and keeping us up, to see what Reykjavik, or Iceland might look like.

Now, I have seen the pictures, all of them bright and beautiful, for the Lord God has made Iceland, too.  And soon I was to see, in fact I was looking down at what the Lord God had made; as far as I could see from a height somewhere between ten and ten thousand feet God had some work to do to live up to the press, the hype.

Have you seen the film(s) Alien?  Then you get an idea of early morning in Iceland, or perhaps any day at the Ninth Circle.  As we descended under a gun metal gray sky on a dim morning through sheets of rain and trails of thin clouds the ground below was a study in gray, at least forty shades of it.  There were black volcanic boulders, dark gray boulders, gray gravelly plains and smoky gray hills in the distance.  Here and there were a few patches of very light gray snow; gray probably because there wasn’t enough light for white.  Oh, and some green things that may have been plants…or pebbles.


Iceland? Well, yes. But no Sigourney in sight.










We landed and deplaned into the terminal, zipped from one place to another, down one set of stairs and up the next.  Waited to go through Immigration (though for God knows what reason I cannot imagine) and moved on to our gate out of Iceland and into light.

I got the impression that the terminal was a movie set and the production staff had moved on to the next project; lots of bare wood.  Within the hour we were airborne again, and on our way to Zurich to meet the Gnomes; a nice family who would be our hosts and serve us cheese.

No Cleaner Place Has Ever Been

I have no solid memory of the flight from Reykjavik down to Zurich, other than the fact that we were in a plane and everything below us was clouded over.  When we began our descent (somewhere above Denmark?) we found ourselves in the soup until about 10 feet above the runway.  Or, maybe that was 2 feet. That close doesn’t mean a thing.  Miraculously, the weather cleared up once we were inside the terminal.  The fact that the place was cleaner than a NASA Clean Room didn’t surprise me at all.  About every second person I saw was pushing a broom or packing a trash bag with something.  And, who wasn’t doing that was standing by to catch the rare and courageous stray dust mote.  Dirt and disorder are outlawed in Switzerland.

I think it was still kind of early in the morning, and since it was Saturday, anyway, the place was rather empty.  Besides us there were a few other travelers, but it was, all in all, a rather quiet, even pleasant, place…for an airport terminal.  We collected our bags and wheeled away down nearly deserted and shiningly clean corridors.  Most of the stores, all of which looked as if they sold stuff waaay out of my range, were closed.

Our destination was the train station where we were to catch a train for the little town of Chur (pronounced like cool with an “r” instead of an “l”).  But first, we needed to get a little pocket change, little being the operative word in Switzerland.  I cannot remember the exchange rate, but picture the Swiss franc as Andre the Giant and the U.S Dollar as Joe Btfsblk from L’il Abner, or Sad Sack, and that should give you a pretty good idea.  I’m surprised the nice lady behind the window didn’t look scornfully at us and say, “We no longer take those.”

Pocket change in hand we headed for the train station, about a quarter mile in that direction through some immaculately clean tunnels under a couple of probably immaculately clean streets.  Mariellen had, with her talent for organization, gotten us reservations on a train to Chur leaving in just a few minutes, and we were on the platform waiting as it eased to an almost silent stop before us.  A few minutes later and we were comfortably and cleanly on our way out of town, riding that train…

Our little trip took us south, down the west “coast” of what I’ve learned was Lake Zurich (duh!).  It was a very pleasant trip  along the lake and then through a wide valley between rolling hills and low mountains; a trip about an hour long, give or take.


Lake Zurich looking north with Mariellen improving the view.


A little lump of land in the middle of the lake


Oh, the privations of rail travel in Europe!


There were little towns and villages all along the lake shore on both sides, and many beach clubs, boat clubs and just plain clubs.


A little church on a little hill. We were to see quite a lot of them…both of them.






























Chur, A Word Which Must Mean Something

Slowly, silently, smoothly, the train came to a stop at Chur and had I not been looking out the window, I would have had very little evidence to tell me of that fact.  We gathered our stuff together and eased on down to the platform.  The town, nestled into hills on both sides of a valley whose mountain walls rose a couple of thousand feet or so around us, was a postcard.  See the top of this page if you doubt it.   It was about 3:00pm when we stood on the square in front of the, what is it now??, the Banhof?

Mariellen had downloaded directions from the station to our hotel, only a short walk away.  She showed me them.  They were concise, clear and all in English.  What they did not indicate at all was where North was, so that someone reading them could determine whether “north east” was; left, right, in between, up or down from where one stood..  Had we turned left, and taken the next right, we would have arrived at our hotel twenty minutes before we actually did.  Nonetheless, our little ramble through the town was pleasant enough, even if up-hill.

Up hill, as the next few weeks were to prove, was about the only direction one could take getting anywhere.

And, so, we found it, The Romantik Hotel Stern .  It was on a quiet street, down a little lane from the main road in the shopping and business district by the way we took and only a few yards from another road, the more direct route to the station, and from the station by the way we would have taken if we knew the way to take.  I know, it’s a kind of “through the looking glass” situation, but that’s Europe for you; a different place.  From the outside the hotel looked neat and clean, but pretty un-preposessing I thought; a kind of businessman’s place, probably full of traveling salesmen and their suitcases of samples.  I was less than impressed too, when we entered the small lobby to check in, a room not much larger than our living room, and with less space to sit oneself down, or set down one’s luggage.

But that all changed when we got to the room, across a small covered drive leading to some other properties behind the hotel.  We took the elevator to the top floor and entered another little world; a space that might have dropped out of a novel about two folks staying in a lovely Swiss chalet, in a room with a balcony whose view was of broad mountain slopes, sharp mountain peaks, and snow at the end of May.  The bed was soft and inviting, a bottle or two of clear mountain water and a basket of lovely fruit nearby in our pine paneled spotless room.  It looked as if it had just been dropped off from the store that morning.  Mariellen had chosen the place especially for the flavor of an “authentic” Swiss hotel.  Whether or not it was, I may never know.  But, from then on, it became for me the measure all “authentic” Swiss hotels must meet.


Mariellen captures the scenery from the balcony of our room. The spire in on a Lutheran church…which was locked when we walked up to it.


An engraving on a big table in the dining room. Lovely work.


Looking north from the balcony.














I wondered as we left to return to the lobby and ask about places to eat before a short walk, whether or not Iceland had the same.

Out on some lava flow, I thought.  Hung with harpoons and whale skins, I thought.

We looked in on the hotel’s restaurant, and decided on it.  Boy, am I glad we did!  Then we went exploring.  Once again, every direction was up.

And, we chose the way up to the left toward the very pointy steeple in the picture above.  Our way wound up a long hill past some vineyards, and a structure that looked like a monastery but was really a prison:


Twice a day, every day…


A lovely little prison right in the center of town.









We happened upon a 15th Century Catholic church, the cathedral of the Diocese of Chur which dates back to the 5th Century, and its cemetery behind which contained the remains of at least one Swiss Guard, a captain, and the members of his family.





P1040775 P1040783



After an hour or so of wandering about and taking many more photos than you see here, we returned to our room, relaxed a bit and then went down to supper.  What we ate shall remain a secret until next we meet.  But here is the little nook in which we ate it, and how that came to be is a story I think worth telling:


Mariellen prepares for a lovely meal in Chur on our first night.


Posted by: Peadar Ban | October 27, 2014

So Much Depends On An Orange Balloon

It was to be a quiet evening, because we had work to do early the next morning.

We both had been at it for nearly three weeks at home; she for much longer than me, at least a month longer of actual work, and for months before that thinking and planning.  The house was filled with books, DVDs, CDs, cards and gift items from manufacturers and publishers large and small.  Catholic publishers, Christian publishers, all of whom do good work. Where there weren’t books there were boxes and packing materials.  The books were for the book fairs we were holding at five of the churches in Nashua over the next five weekends.  The boxes and packing materials were what they had been delivered in during the last several weeks by a steady train of UPS, Fed-Ex and USPO folks, pulling up to the door in their big trucks and little ones like cargo ships to a beachhead.  Those would stay until all the returns were made of unsold books and etceteras.

There were in truth only three chairs left on which to sit on the first floor of the house; two in the dining room, at the table which itself was piled with books, cards, pens, pencils, sticky tags, her iPad and file boxes.  We pushed those aside from time to time to eat.

Well more than a thousand books, and a couple of hundred DVDs and CDs had been catalogued and laboriously tagged in my fine Spencerian hand, the product of those years in St. Blatherum’s scriptorium under the sharp eyed but gentle guidance of Bro.  St. Cursivius da Velum.

And, now, it was the night before.  Bent, and ready for a little unbending upstairs in our hide-out, we rose and wandered away.  The hide-out’s a little room at the back of the house, far away from the world.  It has an amenity or two designed to allow the weary to move away from the turmoil and trouble of the day, to regain some sense of equilibrium, to glimpse, however dimly and distantly, Paradise. A humble couch, some soft pillows, a lap blanket or two and a small refrigerator to keep the wine cool until needed for the journey, are among the amenities.  It’s chief charm is in seclusion and quietness; though wine helps.

And, so we found ourselves, and settled, and turned on the TV to watch something from our ROKU thing which delivered bunches of old series on demand.

We gave no thought to the warning we had gotten from our neighbor earlier that evening.  She, the mother of three lovely youngsters, had just left the house next door.  Walking back to her own home, she passed us going in and said, “What, you’re not going to the party?”  “What party?” we asked.  There was to be a party for the little girl next door, and all her friends were ingathering to celebrate.  She made some smart comment about blockading her own home as she passed us with a carefree (for a few hours at least) wave; an augur of uncertain meaning, and unsettling for that.

The children arrived, and calls , high pitched notes of greeting from the little ones echoed briefly, before the doors closed.  All was quiet except for the cars gunning their engines as they left the drive and disappeared over the hill.

And. We relaxed.  Something was on, white noise and flickers on the glass screen.  The wine was delicious.

But then!  About an hour after the doors closed, as I mentioned above, on the little revelers, they opened again.  The front door lights, and the one on the garage went on.  They spilled out, now stoked on cake and ice cream, candy and soda, overdosed on sugar, and, all of that inside energy compressed like a collapsing star, they exploded on the lawn; tumbling, screaming as only little girls and boys can.  The party had spilled out onto the street.  For the next hour or so the air was filled with their games and random hypertensive activity: Shouts!  Screams! Gay laughing and cavorting. Frantic running around here and there. Then, as suddenly as it had happened, like the echo of a bottle rocket’s boom on a cloudy night is smothered in the clouds, the mania ended in a diminuendo of softer shouts, little giggles and total quietness.

There was an orange balloon on our front lawn as the day broke. I fully expected to find the bodies of two or three of the little kids who attended spread out on our lawn, under the bushes, overdosed on sugar and joy.

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