Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day-Dreaming of Saint Elizabeth

In Wendell Berry’s great novel Jayber Crow, the title character says, “Some of the best things I have ever thought of I have thought of during bad sermons.” Father Barnes gave a good sermon, or homily, this morning, and I had what started out as pretty good thoughts. I dreamed I was Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, male edition.

To do so, I had to kill off Katie. Not literally, but in the way a writer kills off a character. I could not be Saint Webster of Hungary without being a widow(er). So Katie had to go.

Then I moved into the YMCA, sold all of my clothes except for a shirt and jeans and sandals. But only after leaving a few bucks for each of my daughters and selling my house (mine now that Katie was dead) and our two pretty decent cars and all our stuff.

But there was a problem, which soon multiplied into a world of problems. The YMCA does not have a wide-screen hi-def television. So where was I going to watch the Patriots? And without a car, seriously, how could I visit my children and grandchildren? (This is a fantasy of the future. We don’t have any grandchildren yet.)

Plus what if my jeans got dirty? How would I look at Mass?

There was little question in my mind that, with a room at the Y, I could live off of Social Security. And even have some left over to give to the poor, every day. But then there was the problem of the poor: some of them are pretty smelly and not really so nice to hang around with and what could I really do for them anyway? I mean, isn’t the fantasy of helping the poor just that. Can we really help anyone?

By this time, Father Barnes was coming to a conclusion about something or other, and a probably pretty good sermon was developing into some pretty negative thoughts. Which I guess proves the wisdom of Wendell Berry—that his best statements can be turned completely around and still be true.

When I get home this afternoon, I am going to tell Katie I love her—and beg her to outlive me.

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