Sunday, July 3, 2011

On the Road to Kerhonkson

Two years ago this week, I attended my first CL East Coast Family Vacation, a transformative event for me. Before the 2009 Vacation, I had attended local School of Community meetings in my parish and the occasional assembly or retreat in Boston or Cambridge. The 2009 Vacation introduced me to a wider CL community of friends, whom I continue to meet and know and treasure. (Some of them are in the group photo taken at the destination of the 2009 “long hike,” a CL Vacation tradition.) Further, it convinced me that Communion and Liberation is the charism that I wish to follow within the Catholic Church.

I give myself some credit for the impact this experience had on me.

I knew I would be there with only one adult from my home School of Community, Michael. I knew that Michael had attended regional and national CL events previously, and I realized that he could introduce me to many members of the Movement from outside the Boston metro area. So I made the reasonable strategic decision: I stayed as far away from Michael as possible.

I like Michael. In fact, I’m partial to his whole family. But I knew that if I stayed by his side hoping for introductions I would limit my experience and, more to the point, my openness to experience. My list of new-made friends would be FOMs, Friends of Michael. I decided that, beginning from my first entrance into the lobby of the hotel in New Hampshire, I would stand or sit in one space after another and see who I bumped into, figuratively or literally. I would introduce myself and start a conversation, whether the bumper or bumpee was a New York bigwig (even CL has its bigwigs) or some card-carrying Everyman from Philadelphia. I got to know far more Philadelphians than New York bigwigs.

Today, in the company of three angels (see below), I am heading to the 2011 Vacation in Kerhonkson, New York. I am looking forward to seeing the Philadelphians most of all, although Ken and Naomi from Brooklyn and Tom S. from God Knows Where (in the New York area) are high on the list. OK, I guess Ken is a bigwig and Naomi is CL royalty (don’t get me started), but I have a personal connection with the couple that transcends politics or dynastic power. Tom S. is nothing less than my favorite non-Boston CL guy. He’s one of a kind. To know him is to smile.

I was unable to attend the 2010 Vacation for family reasons, and although I love my family, I regretted the missing. But back to 2009 and walking into the hotel lobby the first time. At the registration table sat two people, man and woman, whom I did not know from Adam or Eve. I gave my name and was informed that I would be bunking with “Father Accu,” whom I did not know from God or the serpent. I dutifully took the elevator to the room and found a puzzling sight: There was only one bed in the room, and on it was a pile of someone’s gear. My desire to meet people by bumping into them had been put to an early, morally awkward test. I said to myself, “I am an open-minded person. I have slept in a bed with a man before. But that is an awfully small bed to share with a priest for four nights.” I slung my bag on my shoulder and headed back to the registration desk, where I protested that someone must have made a mistake.

Well, no, they hadn’t. The room was equipped with a Murphy bed, the kind you pull down from the wall, which looked like nothing more than paneling when I first had surveyed the room. So I pulled down the bed, threw my stuff on it, and the weekend began. Father Accursio, by the way, was one of my Virgils, guiding me through the Vacation and introducing me to people like Paula and Merrilyn, a couple of his friends from Attleboro, Massachusetts. The four of us had a memorable car ride to a picnic, which involved singing along at full voice with some CL tunes on the car’s CD player. For example, “My Father Sings to Me,” still a personal favorite.

Today, as I pack before going to morning Mass at my home parish, the auguries are positive. Already, this Vacation looks like it may be packed with surprises.

First, Walt Whitman. About four weeks ago, there began a series of Monday-evening conference calls involving about a dozen people summoned telephonically to plan the events of the Vacation. I was on the list. As the first or second call unfolded, it became clear that the leaders of the Vacation wanted to offer an evening or at least an hour of American cultural expression, particularly in honor of our honored guest visitor, Fr. Julián Carrón, world jefe of CL, originally from Spain, who will be with us Tuesday thru Thursday. Listening quietly to other suggestions, I offered later by e-mail that I would be interested in gathering a selection of American 19th-century poetry—Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson, Melville, and so on—as one portion of the cultural event, which might also include music, art, and other expressions of the American spirit. (CL is big on culture and stuff.)

For two weeks, I heard nothing in response, but being an idiot, I reiterated my offer, with a particular nod to Walt Whitman. After all, he is the great American poet. (Suggest another . . . Dickinson? She’s great but not “American” in the full sense of Whitman and his work.) Furthermore, I have a personal acquaintance with Whitman that dates from age 10, when I won a public speaking contest declaiming “O Captain! My Captain!”

Just five days ago, out of the blue, with no prior warning, my Whitman proposal was accepted by TPTB.* What the hell had I done?! I am nothing if not a perfectionist, and I have some passing experience of performance as the one-time all-time greatest Hamlet-to-Be. (Now, all I’m suited for is King Lear.) I thrashed around for 18 hours, telling myself that I should decline the invitation: too little notice, too late, my Whitman would lay an egg . . . But the following day, I picked up Leaves of Grass and Justin Kaplan’s masterful Walt Whitman: A Life, and this afternoon I will leave home with a plan in place. (You will have to attend the Vacation—or read my follow-up posts—to learn the plan.)

I am hoping that this experience proves the maxim, You can’t learn a thing about bees unless you stick your nose in the hive.

Then there are the angels. Along with Michael and one of his daughters, I was planning to journey to Kerhonkson with a fourth person from my town, one of two Carols in our School of Community. But earlier this week, Michael started to make vague rumblings about taking his own car—something about possibly needing to get away from the group mayhem for a little father-daughter quality time. Frankly, I was relieved, since Michael is German, and he still drives the Mass Pike as though it were the Autobahn, with no sense of a speed limit. I shrugged and thought, All for the best. The old “whoever I bump into” strategy was arising again: I would have a chance to get to know Carol better. But not only Carol, as it turns out.

Wednesday I got a call from Thad, a young CL-er from the Harvard School of Community: Might I have a place in my car for him? Of course! And for his guitar? Sure, why not?

Yesterday afternoon, with my itinerary set in stone—pick up Carol at 1 pm, Thad at 1:30—I got a call from Andrea. “Ciao, Webster! . . . Would you have room in your car for Nordio?” (These Italian CL males share a limited list of first names: Andrea, Luca, Francesco . . . So they get to be known by their surnames or nicknames. The Andrea who called me is “Coppa.”)

A huge smile came across my face. “Nordio” is a recent addition to the Boston CL community and, to my mind, a particularly congenial one. He is a Facebook friend of mine, who follows these posts regularly—although this long post will be a test of whether he actually reads beyond the first paragraphs! In any event, Nordio and I talked and my set-in-stone itinerary changed again: Carol 1:00, Thad 1:30, Nordio 2:00, or thereabouts.

The way I look at it, my car will be filled with angels, and the journey to Kerhonkson is a blessed success before it even begins. Who knows who I’ll bump into when I actually get there?

* The powers that be


  1. Have a safe and fruitful trip!

  2. We won't be going. Have a great adventure!

  3. This post made me smile. I hope you are enjoying yourself and the presentation goes well! I feel about "The Road Not Taken" the way you feel about "O Captain, My Captain!" ... and can't we name Frost as a great (if not THE great) American poet as well?

    -Small One

  4. Thank you, darling daughter (a/k/a Small One). After a week with Whitman, I know that I love Frost more, even though I suspect that Whitman was happier in old age. Thirty years after memorizing most of "Song of the Open Road," Whitman's great anthem of freedom, I think his "freedom" is limited. There is possibly more freedom in swinging an ax and splitting wood all day ("Two Tramps in Mud Time") than there is in thinking about it ("Song of the Broad Axe"). XOXO

  5. I second Marian's sentiments on Frost and think he is the greatest American poet - at least for me..."A Tuft of Flowers"


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