Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Second-hand saints

I have been examining the product of my Amazon storefront, book by book -- in order to cut the deadwood -- as I move from a larger to a smaller home with less shelving. I am moving alphabetically by title, and have made it to the M's. I have also been in attendance as two good friends suffer the destructiveness of cancer. So this morning I am paging through one of my M books -- MORNING THOUGHTS TO CHEER THE DAY, a selection of daily inspirational thoughts published in 1904. Once upon a time the very thought of "inspirational thoughts" acted on me like a cross on a vampire. I was way too cool for such sentiment, unless it be the writings of the saints. Or the psalms. The tough stuff.

But now I am not ashamed to embrace also the consolations of second-hand saints and schmoes like myself. And this morning's offering really resonated with me, as much as anything has of late. Because it took me back to the time when I learned, firsthand, of the power of the ocean that I had only thought I understood up to that point in my life.

A few years ago I got caught in a riptide and almost drowned. My son David, who swam out to get me when I started yelling for help, got caught also and started being pulled out to sea. Both of us were pulled out of the water by the wonderful lifeguards at Ocean City, MD -- me first, yelling "where is my son, my son is in there too, is my son safe?" until I saw that the second guy had gotten to David and was pulling him to safety. David was blue and purple when they pulled him out, but he was safe. All I could think of in that half a minute before the guy got to David was that I had killed my child by my lack of respect for the strength of the ocean. Later still, I was mad that Ocean City had no gradation of warnings for rough water, nothing to alert us to the fact of riptides when we were not watching the news (hurricane coming up the coast) -- in Ocean City, they either close the beach completely or fly the green flag signaling safe waters. On Delaware beaches they have red, orange, yellow and green, signifying degrees of safeness.

But I digress. I came across this in the 1904 day book I was perusing this morning. It resonated with me, as I prepared to attend the funeral Mass of one of my two friends.

It is in some profound bereavement, in some awakening throe of conscience, in some shock of the intellect or the will, that the theorizer and second-hand saint finds himself overboard and called to swim for his life; no bladders under him, no fenced-in swimming bath around him, no life-boat near, nothing left but the distant shore and his muscles and his courage and effort to reach it. Then it is - when the soul cries out for the living God, when it longs and faints for his presence, and in the fierce struggle for life strikes out with its spiritual limbs to reach its shores, that faith is born - that God's spirit comes under the soul like the bounding, elastic sea beneath the trained swimmer, that prayer becomes its own interpreter and God his own witness, the soul its own teacher and way. The secret of God is out. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. -- Henry W. Bellows.

No comments: