Posted by: Peadar Ban | September 25, 2015

My Brother Tom

                                                                   Quiet Sleep and a Sweet Dream


I am listening now to Mendelssohn’s “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage”. It’s one of my own favorite pieces of music, tense at times but ending quietly; easily proceeding, one gets the feeling, with a promise of good at the end and the inevitability of that end. That’s me, no heavy lifting. I want to be carried.

When we were little my father told us children, my brother Tom, me and our sister Stephanie, that we all were in God’s pocket before He sent us to our parents. Our angel took us and gave us to them. It made sense to me. We started from a comfortable place, and we would, someday, return; if not to the same safe and cozy place, then, as I later learned, into everlasting bliss. Or, as C.S. Lewis described it rather excitingly in the last of his Narnia books, a place where we could go “further up and further in.”

I have depended on that all these years.

I have long thought my brother Tom was of a mind to choose the Lewis version of eternity. The eldest, he had, I think, a confident optimist’s view of life and what it offered. And what it offered was illimitable opportunity; all good things. He was a happy fellow, and I, three years junior, loved my big brother in a hero worshiping way; more than my following our father, I wanted to grow up to be like my brother Tom.

Maybe that’s the way of it with younger and littler brothers.


I remember our first summer in a primitive little cottage on the Jersey Shore. It was a short walk to the beach from that cottage. Tom must have been nine or ten, and I was six or seven. That was the year we spent several weeks of sunny days on the beach building a boat. I listened to his tales of the adventures to come each evening as we slept in the same bed in the little room. Tales of what would come to pass, the two of us in our boat and the World Ocean around. We would sail the ocean wide, catch fish by the dozens and have great adventures on the wild and stormy sea. Of course, having no idea what the building of a boat required, the project was a failure. It sank quietly into the sandy bottom just a few feet from shore on the afternoon we launched it. I thought it might have been too ambitious a plan. Tom looked for more planks of wood to build a better, safer, boat. Being boys, though, and young, we moved on to other things, exploring the woods up the road from us for signs of ancient Indians. Pretending we were just those ancients.

We may both have been dreamers, but Tom’s dreams were always bigger, more aggressive and more daring; perhaps, I think now, more romantic. He was a kind of Nimrod, I suppose; but always careful of the risks, the limits. He wouldn’t attempt a Babel; but he would, and did, dare much that others would never dream in their wildest fancies. He had a different drummer. In fact, I’d say that he had his own drum!
Its beat attracted others.


We walked back and forth to school, and each morning and afternoon several boys accompanied us. They were there to listen to my brother’s stories. Stories he made up as we went along, of events that never would but might some day in some place happen. They were the kind of stories I did not know then, but came to find out, would indeed happen to the both of us. I have never forgotten one young fellow, a classmate of mine, who traveled several blocks out of his way each morning and afternoon to listen to my brother’s tales. He was there in the morning waiting for us to arrive, and left in the afternoon reluctantly; Bobby Kupka he was named, who lived on Albany Crescent, all of whose residents were the enemies of us who lived on Bailey Avenue.

A year or two later Tom was “christened” Red Beak by the Big Kids on the block. He assumed a kind of ministerial role in the little republic of kids. And he became in many instances a sort of “envoy” to the other blocks when troubles arose, solving problems, ending squabbles.  Tom wasn’t a fighter.  He was more of a diplomat seeking the sweet middle where all were happy.

Such was my brother’s magic.


That ended when he entered High School, and was certainly put to rest when he graduated. He went to sea, then, in the Merchant Marine, sailing as a deck hand, an Ordinary Seaman, later to become an Able Bodied Seaman in the Seafarer’s Union of the Pacific, a small west coast union which had remained outside the left leaning NMU. His first trip took him around the world, the only kid in the neighborhood to be doing anything like that in forever.

But he was ever Tom when away, and on his return, laconically writing about wandering the streets of Calcutta or Marseilles, or Genoa or Naples as if he was on the subway to Coney Island, continuing life as if he had never left when back. I never questioned him much when he came home. We had begun our own and separate lives by that time. I just knew when he went, one sea bag full of clothes over his shoulder, and dragging another full of books behind him. Aside from the brief letters he would write to me or the family from time to time asking for a pair of work boots to be sent to some distant port, or a shirt, and occasionally a book he could have been away at camp for all that anyone knew. With him back I simply stopped wearing his clothes, and he picked up kidding me the way older brothers do at that age. It was a job he did well.


In the next few years before our marriages, a number of things stand out. At Tom’s urging, and because we so resembled each other, we shared several jobs under his name; working part time in the Post office during the Christmas rush, each year for longer and longer periods until we worked from October through February. We also ushered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It may have been there that he developed his fondness for Madame Butterfly. I know it was there that I developed a fondness for Wagner and the ballet. I have him to thank for that.

There are two other schemes of his which stay with me. He had been away from school for several years, and while he was attending Fordham, and I was in Manhattan, I sometimes attended classes for him, and took one or two exams. One Theology exam I remember taking got him a C in the course. The statute has run on these activities, so we are safe.

But his best was the one in which he interviewed me one Saturday morning on WFUV, where he had a half hour show each week. His scheduled guest had cancelled and he needed someone to fill in at the last minute. We built a boat that sailed a sea of some sort at last. I walked into the studio and he told me that I was L. Peter Schaeffer, a German photographer. And that is who I was for the next half hour as he interviewed me. So convincing was our little game that the engineer told him later he would have sworn we were brothers until we began to talk.


The years intervened with family and work. He was a Marine and a Peace Corps Volunteer; not so violent a yoking of the dissimilar as that may seem, and quite typical of the kind of fellow my brother was. We saw each other irregularly, and briefly at holidays and family visits when our attentions were divided among the company. It is the way of it, of course. But we were brothers, still. These things never change. Just last week when we sat together with our sister, Stephanie, once more three, the years slipped away. I saw, and I like to think he saw, too, the way we were, and have always been. I kissed him when I left and told him that I loved him. So did Stephanie. And, he did the same with us.

My oldest memory of my brother Tom, my first clear memory in fact, is of us both riding down the hall of our apartment at 2820 Bailey Avenue in the Bronx; riding down the hall of the apartment on the back of Stephanie’s crib being pushed by our father and laughing all the way; I a little more than three, and he not yet seven years old, at the beginning of the long voyage now complete for him, and the journey home, a quiet sleep and a sweet dream waiting when the long trip’s over.

Sept. 25, 2015

Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 18, 2015


Here is a poem I think I wrote a few months ago when the snow had at last left the ground. I just revised it. I was awake quite early this morning and heard the Robin call hello to the day: I think it’s a sonnet, though I am not sure of that, or even what kind of a one it may be.

Robin, First to Wake

First light brings form. Homes, where sleeping still
My neighbors lie, appear. And small birds fly,
As it grows stronger, from nests once filled
With hungry young, to search with darting eye
For little bugs about, or tiny seeds
Wind blown; promise of life from shrubs and trees.

Just so Robin, first to wake, atop a tree
Faces east trumpeting reveille –
Strong sound across the morning air. More prayer
Of pure joy in light and life there may be
You declare. I neither know nor care
To say. His song opens day’s book for me.

Oh, night returns, necessarily so
And Robin’s song again in sunset’s glow.
One bird one song sings that sounds good for all.
Begins the day, sweetly chants soft night’s fall.

July 17, 2015

Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 9, 2015


A few days ago on Facebook, which I sometimes think of as a cross between the corner bar without either the beer or the stale beer smell and “hanging on the corner watching all the world go by”**, one of my FB friends, a Catholic priest, asked us this question, “What is time?”  It’s a good bar room question,and so, while leaning back in the chair on my deck on a sunny morning, taking a sip of tea, I wondered about it.

What is it anyway?  Ticks on a clock?  Wrinkles in the mirror?  Faded photographs of The Old Man and his buddies playing softball in the park by the river have a hundred years ago? Homer, Alexander, the rest of the the Greeks and stone strewn sand wastes in Iraq, and trying to make sense of it all?

I don’t remember the fellow’s name, but I do remember the story I read some years ago, a story in a real magazine, on real slick magazine paper, about the physicist, I think, who theorized that time was not this smoothly flowing river we think it is.  He wanted us to think about time as a series of discreet events, like the succession of cards in a deck we might see as we flipped through them, or the images on a strip of film.  What’s more, he said, theses cards and pictures don’t go away.  They are still there; not in our memory, but “really” there…cards put back in their box, film rolled back on the reel.  If so, the fellow went on, we should, we may, be able to go back, to re-enter time somewhere along the way.  Theoretically, of course.  Of course. I thought too of the cards at the other end of the deck, the ones not yet flipped.  What were the pictures on them? Could we suddenly appear in the middle of the room at our great, great, great grand son’s graduation?

Really.  I mean are not space and time linked? And, if so, as each moment passes, or waits its turn, am I not linked in some wonderfully strange way to everything, everywhere? Pardon me I told the tea cup and the trees. I’m going thinking to see what, where and who is around.  And, I didn’t need a passport, or have to take off my shoes.  It was a great question..

Then, an hour or so later, when I’m on my second cup of tea, and the birds are singing sweetly (when they aren’t squawking at each other over the stuff in the feeder) another friend on FB asks another serious bar room question.  He wants to know the answer to the question: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Well, duh, is my immediate reaction to a question like that.

But, I had already gotten my brain working, and since this fellow is some kind of professor somewhere, I sense a trick.  I went inside and buttered myself a piece of toast, and thought deep thoughts as the toast absorbed the half-pound of butter I ladled onto it..  And, I thought about how to keep a brother.  I literally have one of them, you know.  He’s older than me, and he may be getting ready to leave, to exit this mortal coil, whatever that means, and pass beyond the Space-Time continuum. Whatever that means.

Both questions merged.  They have a way of doing that, questions do.

And, while I was thinking about all of that, the problem of keeping my brother, and the Space-Time thing, and butterflies in the Amazon, and what to do with the melted butter at the bottom of the toast plate, I wondered whether we were the only creatures to whom has been given this notion of time passing, and moments never being repeated. I saw a bird, a sparrow, flying over my head earlier as I sat sipping tea on the deck in the back, dark against the lightening sky. And when I looked again at the sky, I could remember what I’d seen, but the bird itself wasn’t there. It and the moment were gone, each wing beat like cards flipped, or frames of film, done and over. Which was the more real?  Of course they were both, but one was gone, gone gone, and the other.  You know I can’t even say it was happening right now, because everything, well, everything just happened.  So I was left with this…

What do I “keep” as I pass the moments by sipping tea on a Monday morning. In the first instance, I keep a memory of that bird, a picture of its silhouette against the morning sky, and its swift moving wings. I’m thinking now of a great hall of memories behind my eyes; really a jumble pushed in every which way for 73 years. Birds and other beasts react, but we can think and plan..and “keep”, possess, and protect. Is that why there’s “Time” in addition to Space?

And now I think about Adam and Eve, and wonder about their Moment, not the one where the first snotty question was asked.  You know the one I mean, “Did God really tell you not to eat of the trees in the Garden?”  No I mean the one that occurred maybe a half hour later; their moment of enlightenment.  The one where they discovered their nakedness and their sin. Maybe it was their first moment of consciousness. Should he have said something to her, reminded her.  But, nothing like that had ever occurred before.  No one had ever needed to be concerned, watchful, vigilant; worry about traffic or anything else.  There were no Stop signs in Eden.  Well, there was, but, really, no one gave it a second thought.  You know?

This is a poem I wrote about ten years ago, based on that snotty question.


“Must you believe everything He said?”
It was a simple question I suppose,
But attention is something I never paid
To belief; never gave it second thought.
My response to everything was, “Fiat!”
The same word she used who came after me.
What mattered was His word, and that was that.
The question, frankly, I found puzzling.

“What does it mean to ask if I believe?”
“I have your attention then.  Tell me that
You know the way of everything you see.”
“Everything is the way it is.  Why not?”
Was my simple answer.  Why make a fuss?
“Everything,” he said, and left a question
Hanging in the air between us,
And silence as we two walked along.

We passed that place I had passed so often.
He paused and asked me what I though
Of its majesty, beauty and location.
“may we not both stay here a while and rest,
Refresh ourselves in this sweet place and take
Our ease?  We may just find something to eat
Among the trees and sit beside the lake.”
I saw no harm in resting, but said, “Wait,

Friend, and we will be filled with all good things.
A feast is spread each evening when shadows
Fill hollows and myriads of birds sing
A song of parting to daylight’s last glow.”
“But there is so much here.  Is this all no good?”
“Everything is good, but, we never taste
The fruit of this tree.  He has said we would
Die if we do.  We believe what He says.”

“Ah, yes.  You believe.  You trust His word, then?”
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t trust
Him when He tells us something.  Trust has been
The way of it between Him and us.”
“Then help me understand.  is this poison?”
Saying this he took a fruit, “It seems not
To be so and you said, to my recollection,
Everything is good.  If that’s true, then what

Harm could there come to me by eating it?”
He bit and chewed, and swallowed, smiling while
he did this simple thing, and bade me sit.
Too surprised to speak I sat down silent
In the shade of the tree whose fruit he held.
“I don’t think eating this will make me die.
It simply tastes too good to be at all bad.
I think, dear one, you have believed a lie.

I know the difference between bad and good
beleieve me when i say no harm will come to you.”
He reached into the tree from where he stood
And gently took another ripened fruit.
“take this and eat it.  You’ll be satisfied.”
I took and held the globe in my two hands,
Evidence of his words before my eyes.
I trusted, ate, began to understand.

And, now as evening turns to darkest night
Remorse has seized my heart from that first bite

March 9, 2005

Did time start there? And, with it did that sense of responsibility that might be called “keeping”; brothers, laws, commandments and trust? Do butterflies matter? Silly questions seem to.

** The original lyrics to the song were “Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by.” a hit song by a group of guys named The Four Lads whom I saw perform at Carnegie Hall in one of the last concerts where no one was smoking dope.:

Posted by: Peadar Ban | June 27, 2015

One Giant Leap

The birds sing sweetly outside in the cool early morning.  I sit listening to a Robin’s morning song, a Cardinal’s quiet call from the azalea bush just by the window.  The sun has risen behind a soft blanket of gray clouds gathering for the rain later this afternoon.  Nothing seems to have changed at all.

Did they know or notice any change, our first parents, on the morning after, looking back on the closed and guarded gates of Paradise?  Would not the birds have been singing that morning, and the sun in the sky; singing the same song, shedding the same light, as they began their long walk away?  Would they not wonder why?

It was such a beautiful tree, so ripe the fruit, so sweet the taste, so honest the desire, so appropriate the reason.  There was equality to be achieved. Is it not just?  And, against equality who can argue, or why quibble about methods?

Was not Joseph Stalin unconcerned with his methods: the famines, the purges, the gulags, needed to destroy the old culture of privilege so to shine on new turned earth the brightness of socialism, lighting the flame Equality across the world? Was the result not equal to the effort?

Can, or should, the new Caliph in the desert waste be concerned at all with the erasure of every trace of thousands of years of culture there, or the conversion or murder of any non-muslim in his sight, that he may bring the peace, the light of islam and the equality of sharia to his children?  Will that result not be greater than the effort?

And here, how quietly change comes and hope is fulfilled.

How peacefully promises made to ourselves can be kept. What is there to regret in that?  The past is for forgetting.

Why look back at rusting gates?  We have taken a great leap forward.  One giant leap.

What matter Paradise now with its rules and walls others make?  We have come closer to Hell where new light shines in the darkness, and rules are what we say they are.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | June 16, 2015

The Sower Knows

The Sower Knows
(A Meditation on an Ant and EZ 17:22 )

The quick little ant, black and small,
Scurried from the crack where floor met wall.
I its random wander watched across the naked tile,
Its nervous scatter, and watching smiled
As might He who from heaven’s height
Watches my wander across day to night.

A seed so have I been told I am
Scattered from the Farmer’s hand
To root, grow, fruit and bloom, but how and where,
And when? This ant, skittering here
At my feet, I neither guide nor control,
Is seed for thought, my guide; thought’s fixing foil.

No tender shoot high on mountain am I set
But like this little creature, mere toil, yet
From whose most random path rude lesson take.
Those sudden stops and starts across my way
Teach, as it triangulates for food they
Need who serve the mother and the queen.

Like duty have I, too, and purposed goal:
To serve while in the world so all may grow
And gleam jewel bright. Not what I will here
Matters, nor where I go. But serve is clear
And good sun light on green fields. From dark waste
Of rot wet stone be set in better place.

He moves within the seed, moves the soul.
He moves who makes all new to change the world;
Moves to mountains Cedar limbs, softens heights
To soil and rocky paths to pasture sweet.
Who cast me first meant good soil my home.
I chose rocks and roads where no good ever grows.

No slim tender shoot planted high was I,
But I have grown, have roots and see the sky.
From where I am there’s light enough to grow.
And will I? I believe the Sower knows.

peg/ 06-16-2015


Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 16, 2015

Today: April 16, 2015

The little yellow crocuses, the first to bloom each year, even as mounds of age old snow still loomed over the yard, are shrinking back into their nest behind the bit of granite around which I planted them years and years ago.  They are free of any care about the weather, I always think when I see them each spring, and brave.  I noticed their final few as I came down the stairs a while ago.

The cat, our neighbor’s cat a few houses in some direction from us: the cat of smoky gold color and imperial hauteur (I think it kind of funny that a guy like me uses a phrase like that) strolled across the backyard just now at 7ish in the morning, the first time I’d seen it in months.  At the top of our little hill back there he paused in leonine majesty looking back along his track, around at his rule.  He made a feint in the direction of a small bird, a titmouse or chickadee on the neighbor’s fence.  It scooted quickly into a nearby tree.  Then he stood as if waiting for a sculptor while thinking about a clever spot to put his monument.  He’s been at this for about ten years now, and I begin to wonder who will see the end of Spring’s coming first; him or me.

I left my post at the door to our little deck outside, now free of snow for the last few days, the first time since October, and went looking for a camera; the living portrait on the hill to memorialize.  He was gone when I returned a few seconds later.  He’ll be back as soon as tomorrow.  I’ll be waiting, then.

Cat gone, the young flowers just blooming on the hill caught my eye.  We saw our first daffodil yesterday away over in the corner near the flat topped umbrella shaped sassafras tree and our volunteer crab apple.  It’s still there piping a high clear golden note among the dull gray drone of unraked leaves.  And the hyacinths that I planted last spring are little blue fountains on the slope.  They were a gift from the sacristan at St. John XXIII. “Take them,” she said, “no one will miss them.  It makes me sad to see them dumped in some bin somewhere.”   I was happy for the offer, and happier still that they’ve taken to their new home.  We are becoming friends. Their cousins, the little Grape Hyacinths have started many settlements over the years, and will soon appear.  Our forsythia are on the way, and the lilacs have plans, too.

We’ve invited some friends from The Families of Nazareth over this Sunday to spend a little time with Cindy and Don as their First Anniversary rolls around.  While I was looking at the forsythia at the corner of our deck I realized it would, no doubt, just be bursting into bloom when they walk through the door.  If that is the case, I’ll march them right outside and let them be welcomed with the fanfare of flowers.

While I stood at the door thinking these thoughts in the fresh sunshine, I thought of how lately gone this time of day would have been buried in in deep shadow; or thick gray clouds would have shivered by.  For a little more than half my life, now, I’ve watched through the door the year’s progress through the seasons.  It’s become clear to me that time has been sped up, or been compressed somehow.  Shorter is the length of each season, more quickly comes the next.  It seems only a little while ago I shoveled a path through snow nearly to my waist from the back door to the bird feeders on the hill.

It will be a minute or two, I sometimes think, when I’ll be wiping the sweat from my eyes while I mow the lawn.  Before then, though, we’ll have our annual visits from the Orioles…the birds, not the team.  We’ll sit out front in the evening and chat with the neighbors walking by, pet their dogs, listen to the children playing, riding bikes or scooters; chasing balls or each other and sipping something cool; perhaps, even, an adult beverage in the blush of the setting sun.

April is not the cruelest month.  Perhaps, instead, it is the most promising.

It’s an Interesting time of year, you know.  There’s quite a lot going on.  Here are some poems I wrote a while back about it:


The hardy crocus and brave daffodil
Push up their leaves and blossom
While all the other flowers still
Sleep deep in earth’s protective bosom.

They serve the waking world
With gentle colors and hues,
And, as the morning songs of birds
Sounds honey to my ears, they my eyes

Bathe in sweet reflected light.
I include them in my prayers
Smiling, since I know dear heaven’s
Is reached on just such petal covered

peg, 1996


What does April breed
But hope born of Winter’s need;
Not violence assembled on the western edge
of comparison with November,
That gray and dreary month of
Tomb lids and tumbling night,
Of memory and desire.

April opens like a diamond
Scattering light, fanfares of color
At the retreating night,
Fills with swelling song choirs
of returning life to fight
Against the hostility of snow
Cold distance of constellations,
Banishes arrogance and death.

This month of better days plays
Silver showers and silky winds on my face,
Delights in testing trees, trains
Hills and plains for the rough rumble
Of summer thunder, the muscular
Beauty of being alive.

April, womb’s gate of the year,
Cruel only if life is cruel,
Witness of hope, generosity,
Dearly yearned for sufficiency,
Chrysalidal nugget, seed of joy,
You evidence heaven here and yet to be.

April 5, 2002

April Enters Softly

In no time at all the ground is cleared of snow
And long dead fallen leaves exposed, blown
Down the hill into deeper woods to grow
Silence in slim light where young deer nervous roam.

Softly April enters at hilltop, alone
Of all months in labor (at least here).
Gentle settling life on misty dawn
While infant blossoms waken shy and near.

One springs eternal now who died
Pregnant with salvation’s fruitful light
Sweet liquor streaming from his side
Fragrant grace incarnadine


This will quicken your pulse, and put a little Spring in your step!  Turn up the sound:

Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 25, 2015

A Poem: Where None Should Be

Where None Should Be

There are stones beneath the snow.  Beneath the snow
Are fallen brown leaves I suppose last Autumn’s oaks
Had shed in the golden days before the hateful cold,
That is all I’ll have from this fading winter, would,
Hurtling down on us from the bitter north pole,
Heap mountain high heaps of smothering snow
Spitefully freezing life everywhere.

Now the stones, buried these many months,
With the sun’s help, push through, push through
Patient as only stones can be, seem to grow
Out at the edges by less than inches.  A bunch
Of birds inside a bush wait for feeders
To be filled while a chill of rain falls
And, snow or no, feeder filling’s a job only I can do.

I fill the old plastic jug from the bag of seed
In the shed behind the house, the shadow of the eave’s
unnecessary shade making for a colder job
Than I would have, and just that much chill of heart
And hand adding to my cold work of charity
For the birds, and squirrels who’ll hoover the ground beneath
Of every errant seed when I have done my part
In the universal plan ordained from eternity
By a loving God for a lame from biting cold man.

So, jug full, frozen through, I force my way back,
The small stone heads emerging from snow’s womb’s edge,
And climb to the top snow piled peak; beating a track
All the way with numbing feet to what just may have been
The thankful prayers, or cheers, of birds from bush and hedge
On both flanks, and squirrel chatter in the rhododendron.

Wherefrom I look down on the empty feeder atop
Its six foot metal post, the first three feet deep
Embed in snow turned silver gray ice. A steep slope
Of the same stuff leads to it, whose geography
Threatens me, and dares me too, on what’s become
A fool’s errand by now.  Dare I try?  Or turn around?

In the end soft heart over hard head wins
And, one arm held straight out for balance sake
Most carefully, I, oh so slightly, bend
My one good fully operating leg;
The jug of seed clutched safely to my chest.
My first mistake.  The bad one, the right, not left,
Leg; though you’d think the sinister would be,
Wouldn’t you?  Not me though whose fate’s soon sealed
When what’s left of my Caput Femoris there
Decides to slide across its companion where
Once a soft cartilage would cushion it.

Alas! A threnody I sing for that
Lost ability gracefully to fall
And no longer dance. Just fall flat..
Accompanied by scattered seeds and melodies
Of patient waiting birds, and squirrel
Choirs within the rhododendron bush
I slide in the direction of my pain
Down the slick and icy snow hill;
Tipping as I go towards my weak right side,
Give flight to jug and all the seed inside
And land, full circle come, at least looking up.

The birds in the bush nearby are silenced.
The squirrels in the rhododendron quiet
Too.  The last seeds bounce and clatter
About.  Rain still falls cold and wet on me
Who can’t see a thing through my fogged glasses.
But I can hear the hiss of rain, and soon
The flutter of little wings, beaks tapping
On the ice, and one brave titmouse on me
Foraging for safflower seeds where none should be…


Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 21, 2015

IDA: A Film for People Who Hope, Who Believe, Who Think

Last week, to mark a Big Birthday, we sneaked away for a few days to a quiet place on the shore of the sea. One night, while outside the wind roared in from the North for one last big blow and waves ran right up to the sea wall just across the street from us, we nestled down in front of the fireplace in our room. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and somewhere drums were being drummed, pipers were piping and songs were sung. It being too cold to march in the Parade, we sat instead in our room by the wind-blown sea and watched this year’s Best Foreign Film, the Polish movie called “Ida.” It was already on our list, but we bumped it up after reading an article about it last week. The author complained that Catholics are not talking about it despite the fact that it is very much a Catholic work and all the more worth seeing for that, in addition to its prize winning status. And, she continued: “If you’re a Catholic, you’d best be consuming good art.” Not only that, ” the Catholic Church used to be THE greatest creator and patron of the arts in the WORLD. We need to step it up once again.”

Thus challenged and primed, we settled back

Most immediately I was reminded of those bleak works that came out of Scandinavia in the 1960’s when I was a young fellow, about Man’s search for meaning or something; all of them dealing in one way or another with death, illness, faith, betrayal, bleakness, insanity — or dealing with all of those things at once. I was reminded, too, of parts of Zorba the Greek, the ones without the dancing and drinking, though there’s some of that in this film too. The Scandinavian films most often were shown in what came to be called “art” houses where black was the required dress,and the required mood. Zorba made it to Times Square when human beings still went there.

We watched “Ida” on my wife’s Mac Book, which, well, neither means nor proves a thing. And other than helping you guess my age, neither do my references and memories above mean much!

Bleak it was, and all of those other things. Postwar Poland may have been a more hospitable place than the Gobi Desert in January, but not by much I’ll bet. And that’s where we find ourselves as the film begins in bareness: in a convent among three young postulants preparing for their final vows. It’s bleak, yes, but there’s much more going on there that the bleakness hides, if you let it. And as I think, now, about what I watched not yet a week ago, I begin to see behind the bleak curtain and make out the, to me anyway, simply incredible richness of the thing.

I’ll give you a very small example. There is a glance exchanged between two characters at the beginning of the film, the briefest of things that takes place during a very silent meal . That glance might have been expanded to a scene or two in any other film with all the action and dialogue “thereunto appertaining.” In another scene about midway through the film, during another meal where these two characters are present only one of them looks at the other. The “unreturned” glance could be the film’s pivot, because very soon Anna, the young novice whose past the film uncovers (including her real name, Ida) is outside the convent in the world, the clunky, falling apart place that was Poland, the postwar Communist worker’s paradise.

We meet her one surviving relative, an aunt, who tells her, with all of a serpent’s tenderness, that she is a Jew. Classical music plays in the background during this scene in her aunt’s apartment, a modern, liberated woman, a state prosecutor, and one begins to understand … because one has to since not a word is said … that the aunt “believes” in nothing.

And while we, the audience, observe, Ida, too, observes. Later, she prays. Simply, silently. For what does she pray I found myself wondering. The camera lingers often on her open, and innocent, face, and on her eyes, unblinking, watching what she had been sent out by her prioress to see, to learn about, after that glance.

As the film progresses, she sees her past and learns about her family, the ones she never knew, and how they spent the war. She sees her Aunt, and learns from her how people spend their lives these days. And we see, too; though are rarely told. Dialogue is an accent, almost an incidental, in this film, whose tale could be told as well I guess, altogether silently, in still photos laid upon a table one by one, and glances exchanged or, alternately, not returned.

So, to watch, and, yes, to hope. That’s what I found myself doing as the story went along, hoping for Ida, for her Aunt, for the people she meets along her way. Hope that, in the end, folks will make the “right” choices. I’m trying to avoid another word that begins with “r”, here, because the film doesn’t end that way, in so obvious a manner. Ida’s choices aren’t always the best one might think, as the choices others make, or made, are not, either.

In the end, we are left with Hope, and, well, Love, too.

Someone asked me if I would recommend the film, and, if so, in what frame of mind a person ought to approach it. I definitely think the film is worth watching. I would suggest that the viewer do so in hope of receiving a gift small on the outside and unprepossessing to look at, but oh, so large within.

The trailer follows. Do yourself a favor and ignore the silliness in the comments section.

Posted by: Peadar Ban | March 8, 2015

Who Am I?

Well, the short answer is I am nobody, just another guy.

But I have a brain, and I can think…after a fashion…which activity produces in me conclusions about the things I see going on around me.  Many of my conclusions are unpleasant ones, but what can I do?

Not much, it seems, except, from time to time, to give them a voice, barely above a whisper, in a venue like this one.  It’s about the equivalent of griping in a bar, except there’s no haze of cigarette smoke,  no roar and rumble of subways outside and no unpleasant odors of stale beer and sweat inside.  Wait a second!  Did I just call them “unpleasant odors”?  Forgive me,  they were the very perfumed air of my youth.

I got upset again a day or so ago after reading something in an online journal called The Catholic Thing.  A professor, a philosophy professor, a guy who thinks for a living, wrote an article about islam that appeared there.

An aside  before I continue, please.  I’ve decided not to use an upper case letter when I write anything that has to do with islam.  I do not think it, or they, proper in any sense of the word, for any part of speech.

Anyway he writes his article about the thing, reaching the conclusion that whatever it is, islam’s not a religion.

Well, “Duh!”, as the kids say.  Now, this little piece is not exactly a battle cry, a cri de couer, a peal of bells from the watchtower as the savage hordes swarm over the hills.  But, and this is important; muted and scholarly murmur that it is, it is another in a slow but steadily increasing number of reflective and reasoned exposures of the not merely ugly but the horrible, the probably hellish, truth about the thing in our midst referred to by many as “the religion of peace”.

Fellows like Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer have for years been publishing books and articles detailing islamic atrocities across the world.  For the most part they are ignored, treated like madmen, haters, liars and worse;  the people who know, know they haven’t the brains to get in out of the rain.  Those people include our president, his administration and the editors of just about every news organization in the country.

Now this piece appears in my in-box, another in the trickle of truth against the torrent of ignorance and lies about islam, and I tell you that I’m upset.  It’s simple.  Damn it!  This has been going on for more than 1400 bleeping years! And the most we seem to think can be done, or should be done, is to let them get over their latest tantrum. Oh, we’re dropping bombs here and there.  It reminds me of the ancient and honorable practice of stabbing ones lice with an ice pick.

I am upset about the article’s appearance because I just finished a conversation with a Catholic priest.  This fellow is chaplain at a secular college.  There are a sizable number of foreign exchange students at this institution.  I got the impression from the good priest that most of them are muslims.  They are very nice he told me.  I asked if he had any idea how nice were the muslims in East Timor who massacred tens of thousands of Christians.  That’s when he said that Christians massacred many more during the Crusades.

What is the use of saying, of writing, anything.  Anyway, you may read the article

Do read it.  It will be bad for your digestion.

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.

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