blood of their blood

as I contemplate changes
here today
I hear
my grandfather say
as he lay dying
from Parkinson’s
Sweet Jesus
this is some penance
you gave me
and see
my father’s eyes
when no one else
was looking
the weariness
the sorrow
of the unforgiven
and here I am
far from the home
they tried making
older than either
ever were
and blood
of their blood
with penance
still left
to pay

 

 

 

on penance: for my Joes

their day nears
and I hear
my grandfather say
as he lay dying
from Parkinson’s
Sweet Jesus
this is some penance
you gave me
and see
my father’s eyes
when no one else
was looking
the weariness
the sorrow
of the unforgiven
and here I am
far from the home
they tried making
older than either
ever were
and blood
of their blood
with penance
still left
to pay

this thing called faith

So I’m in this discussion about faith which has not exactly been my forte but which I’m finding myself thinking about more and more these days. Anyway, it’s with some of my teachers and somewhere in the conversation I relay a story about a former Turkish student I had in the US who was upset when I referred to a character in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story (The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World) as a metaphor for a prophet. This particular student, whose name I can no longer recall, objected to anyone being called prophet except Muhammad because in the Muslim faith, Muhammad was the last prophet. And to be a true Muslim, you had to accept that as fact. I said that the same was true of all religions, that there were things one must accept as fact to be a true believer, such as The Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic religion or the belief in the Trinity. For what is faith but a belief in what cannot be proven. A belief in miracles, in angels, in devils, too. In life after death where one meets those who have gone before. In peace, in justice, in love.

Anyway the conversation went on and I was half in, half out since my mind was going back in time to the weekend and my conversation with Chuck Thegze about this very same thing and his Jesuit upbringing. His faith is always admirable and I am once again struck by the fact that I once had faith but somehow, perhaps with the death of my father, or perhaps before that, drifted off into the mist of doubt.

In the Catholic religion, when one sins, one can get absolution by confession. The priest gives you penance and after you complete it, you are back in a state of grace. I never much cared for confession, nor thought the 10 Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers plus a good Act of Contrition was much in terms of penance. To me, penance was my grandfather dying from Parkinson’s Disease on the dining room table and crying out, “Sweet Jesus, this is some penance you gave me.” That suffering seemed more appropriate, though not for my grandfather who deserved better, or less depending on which angle you looked at it, in terms of penance. For penance is, in my eyes, an act of atonement, which is something I do know quite a bit about.

Anyway, to get back to the present, this business of faith keeps cropping up in my thoughts lately, say for the last several years, and though I have always considered myself a moral person, there have been times I have slipped, I have faltered. And at those times, I have always come to some decision as to how I would atone for that moral laxity.

So here I am atoning. This is no 10 Hail Marys, 10 Our Fathers, a good Act of Contrition type of penance, but a sacrifice, for how else does one prove to whomever is listening that you are sincere in your act of atonement if you do not sacrifice something? I’m not in the habit of slaughtering sheep or cows or chickens, but I am in the habit of giving up something to get something back. So I am giving up something for a considerable length of time to get back God’s trust. To show that I am worthy of that trust. That I am atoning for my lack of faith by making a commitment to regain it.

I don’t know how this will look in the eyes of others, but honestly I don’t really care. This is between God and me. A pledge, sotospeak. And a way of demonstrating that I am serious. I am, after all, a descendant of working class stock. And we of that class know you don’t get anything for nothing. There’s always a price one must pay. So I’m anteing up. I’m doing my best to reclaim this thing I seemed to have misplaced: this thing called faith. And putting all my chips into the pot, expecting to one day find myself with the one true love of my life, whoever she may prove to be, in the great beyond with my grandfather, my two fathers, my aunts, my uncles, sitting around the table as my mother dances a tarantella and my grandmother serves up the raviolis, homemade red wine, strong espresso, Sinatra and strings, a celebration, there where my faith brings me: home.