Thursday, January 14, 2010


One day in October I called Frank Edwards, an 80-year-old member of my choir who'd recently celebrated his sixtieth wedding anniversary. His wife Tootsie answered the phone, and after the hellos she said, "Could you give me a second? One of the orna ments just fell off the Christmas tree." When she got back, I asked, "Your Christmas tree? You're early."
"We don't take it down anymore," she told me. "A couple years ago, we looked at it after New Year's and said to each other, "It's so beautiful and cheerful, and every year we feel so sad putting it away. Why don't we just leave it up?"
There's something to that, grabbing on to a beloved season and not letting go. Besides, when you reach a certain age, Christmas returns so quickly it seems that just when you've boxed everything up you're taking it out again.
Personally, I'd prefer an eternal springtime, but there's nothing I can do about that — except to get outside as often as I can in that season, imprinting the bursts of blooms upon that inward eye, to fill my heart with pleasure in bleak midwinter.
Actually, I had to spend some of my inward-eye capital last spring and early summer — here in the Northeast it was so rainy and cold that even the daffodils, all drooping and dripping, couldn't draw me out. The bees stayed inside too, which is why their honey production was dismally low, down two-thirds from last year.
It could be "climate change," everything topsy- turvy. In a few years I may be growing avocados in the garden here, while Samoa washes away.
Speaking of "change," consider the word as a political slogan. A year ago, much of the country and the world was swept up in giddy hope. Remember the love-feast on the Capitol Mall on inauguration day? Quite inexplicably, or is it, hope lost its audacity after about a hundred days. Though G. W. Bush was soundly repudiated, his policies, by and large, were not — more troops to Afghanistan; little or no movement on energy, environment, transportation; health-care "reform" that's basically a gift to the insurance companies. Even relations with Cuba, despite the warm early initiatives, haven't thawed. I may have to sneak in for a look.
So no Cuba so far, but I did get to Costa Rica in June, where my sister Jeannie and her husband Rob have built a lovely house and vacation rental apartments near Nosara on the Pacific Coast. The beaches are beautiful, the water warm, the wildlife fascinating, the pace of life slow. Pura vida, as the natives say.
Meanwhile, back in the hectic South Bronx, the building boom continues despite the economy, with all that enterprise-zone money locked in from headier days. We've even got a Home Depot now. But the recession has had its effects on the people — over 600 line up at the St. Augustine Food Pantry every Monday, three times the number of two years ago. One encouraging note is that several farmers' markets opened up here this summer, providing fresh produce that people can buy with food stamps — a healthy step up from the canned goods and surplus cheese of years past.
The St. Augustine Church community was saddened this fall when its century-old church building was closed as structurally unsafe and irreparable. The school auditorium across the street has been turned into an interim church. Pastor Thomas Fenlon, a team of parishioners, and the Archdiocese have been exploring the possibility of razing the grand old church for senior housing and building a smaller new one, but the recession has put a hold on that for now. So there she stands, a relic of what the Bronx used to be, in prosperous times and poor.
Our Lady of Victory Church down the street, where I am the music director, suffered a grievous loss with the death of its longtime pastor Peter Gavigan, who collapsed during Sunday Mass and died three days later, on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. He was one of those street-fightin' priests of the South Bronx, tena ciously present for his people during 30 of the very worst years in this area, mobilizing them to combat drugs and violence and compel the city to improve education and housing. As a young priest he was shaped by the civil rights movement and the Second Vatican Council, and he never relented, never looked back. We shall not see his likes again, part of that generation of giants now almost gone. I miss him.
As for myself, I'm being overrun by technology. Two decades ago, I was designing computer applica tions, and now computer applications have their designs on me. Over the last year, I've been inundated by e-mail invitations from half a dozen social networking sites to become "friends" with people I never heard of. Recently I got a Facebook message from a woman I met in a ballroom dancing class in 1976 and never saw again. If she could find me, who — or worse, what — is out there in Cyberland trolling for my identity, spending patters, political views?
It makes me want to flee to a monastery, but they're on-line too — ten Trappists tweeting.
But who knows? Maybe by next Christmas I'll be thoroughly linked-in, and this letter will arrive on your computer, precisely 140 characters long.
Meanwhile, let's take a tip from Tootsie and hold our holiday cheer throughout the year!

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