Tuesday 29 September 2015
“…you stand with the belligerent, the surly and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: Vocabulary of the deeply wounded and those whose burdens are more than they can bear.” -Fr. Greg Boyle.
I am trying to write an anniversary letter to celebrate fifty-two weeks of letters written by the small band of warriors who compose our group. I admit I am struggling. I do not know if I can stay with the chosen subject. I feel a bit guilty about that. My mind is in a fuss thinking about the Pope, his visit to the United States, and the mixed reception he received. I am Roman Catholic by choice, a choice I made after several years of being married to Sweet Grecy.
My mother was Roman Catholic, but she left the church at age eighteen when a priest refused to baptize me because she was unmarried. She told me the story of it when I was still a child. Though I did not fully understand her words, I did understand the rage she felt. It was palpable. I could feel it in my bones as she spoke. That is what I remember most, and it is what drew me to the opening quote. In her last years, she resolved her anger and returned to the church. But for reasons I do not understand, she chose to keep it secret. I did not know of it till after her death. I am glad she did, because I think she found comfort in her return.
It is kind of a funny thing. Through out my adult life, I have always felt a fondness for the church, and over the years, have had strong friendships with two priests. One who invited me to attend mass, and insisted I receive Holy Communion. He said a hungry man should never be denied bread, and that was how he saw me, as a hungry man. I have carried his kindness in my heart for decades. The other priest with whom I became friends was a redheaded, freckle faced Irishman whose parish was on Rota Island, a tiny speck of land that lies a hundred or so miles off Guam. There, he attended to the spiritual needs of the two hundred and some Chamorros who lived there at the time.
I met him in the mid sixties when an inflight fire forced us to make a landing there on an abandoned Japanese runway left over from World War Two. It was put out quickly, but damage to the electrical system necessitated an immediate landing to prevent us from falling out of the sky. We had two choices. It was there, or it was the ocean. After a low pass to eyeball the situation, the pilot decided, though wholly inadequate for a modern jet aircraft, the runway gave us the best chance for survival. Shit hot jet jockey he was, he managed to hold things together, and made a rough landing on the short, dilapidated runway. The story goes that any landing you walk away from is a successful landing. The freckle-faced priest and a small band of curious Chamorros met us at the end of the runway when we clambered out of the plane. We were invited by them to stay in the village and share their bread as long as necessary.
Talking to the outside world was difficult. As there were no communication satellites, we had to depend on the plane’s noisy, sporadic HF radio. Atmospherics strongly affected the quality of transmission and reception. It took a couple days to communicate our needs, then the waiting started. In the end, it took a couple weeks before the needed parts arrived on Guam and were boated to us.
During our time there the seven of us split up to live with the hospitable people of the island. It was my good fortune to end up living with the priest in his simple bamboo bungalow. Though Irish, he favored Scotch whiskey, and had some on hand. It led to talks long into the night on philosophy and a myriad of other subjects. I told him the story of my mother at the time of my birth. He could only shake his head. To him, it was an unbelievable situation.
With the aircraft fixed, another dicey situation confronted us. We had to get off the ground and into to air quick enough to clear trees standing at the end of the runway. We attached JATO bottles to the plane to give us extra power, but even with them, there were no guarantees. With the engines at full power and the JATO bottles lit off, we rumbled down the potholed runway and into the air. The rest, as they say, is history.
Before we left, I had given the priest my mailing address. A few weeks later, while in Japan, I received a letter from him. That led to a correspondence that lasted several years. I wished for a long time I could return to Rota to see him again, but that never happened. I will never forget the conversations we had while sipping Scotch Whiskey neat and fruitlessly batting at mosquitoes. When I think about it now I feel a little choke in my throat.
So here I sit basking in the memories, wondering where they will take me. Perhaps they will lead to sweet dreams tonight. Perhaps not. I am sure they are what led me to seek the church. I love the ritual of mass. I take communion with a light heart. I bear up to life better because of it. Even with all the zigs and zags I have experienced, I am happy with my life. There is a deep sense of contentment that lies within me. I cannot ask for more.
To read more letters, click on The Path!