When I was eighteen years old my mother died. She was 53. That was fifty years ago yesterday. Her funeral was in the little church I had grown up in. I’d like to be able to tell you that my Christian faith was a great comfort to me at the time but it wouldn’t be true. I wasn’t sure about this God who could let such a thing happen. Continue reading
Since the numbing election I’ve been imbibing in the music and poetry of Leonard Cohen. I didn’t start out on this road as some sort of masochistic exercise. I just wanted to reacquaint myself with the work of this troubled genius who juggled so many contradictions within himself and his art.
Cohen was God-haunted while denying any traditional understanding of God. He followed Buddhism “religiously” while he still never stopped being deeply informed by his Jewish identity. Much of his poetry and song verse bristles with Biblical imagery and apocalyptic vision. Continue reading
Author T. C. Boyle has an intriguing short story entitled “Chicxulub.” Chicxulub is the name of an enormous asteroid (or perhaps a comet) that collided with the earth sixty-five million years ago on what is now the Yucatan peninsula, leaving an impact crater one hundred and twenty miles across, and twelve miles deep.
Boyle’s short story intersperses such episodes of catastrophic natural disasters with a story of one night in the life of one family. The main characters are a husband and wife, parents of a 17-year old daughter named Maddy. They receive a phone call from a hospital: “There’s been an accident!”
Apparently Maddy has been hit by a drunk driver while walking home from the Cineplex. They head to the hospital in that dream state of shock that overtakes those in the midst of disaster. At the hospital they are unable to get much information out of the staff. They are told she is in surgery. They wait and wait. Finally a young doctor comes out and speaks to them. He drops his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he tells them.
When I first read the story I was deeply moved, even though I knew it was a work of fiction. But Boyle was toying with his readers. He was toying with me. Because in the end we learn that Maddy is not dead. The dead girl on the gurney is a sixteen year old friend of hers, Kristi, who borrowed Maddy’s I.D. to get into an NC-17 movie in the next theater. Maddy gets another chance. Continue reading
Today would have been my father’s 95th birthday. Lawrence Clifford Floyd was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on October 12, 1914, and died in Ocean Park, New Jersey, on July 14, 1983 at the age of 69. He is buried in the Quaker Cemetary in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, along with my mother Frances Irene, who died in 1967 at the age of 53.
It occurred to me that both my parents fell shy of the biblical three score and ten lifespan.
There was a time not long ago, before Bruce Springsteen and Susan Sarandon were on the cover of AARP magazine, before orthotics, artificial knees and hips, Botox and Viagra, Prozak and Ativan, when life was understood, not merely as the pursuit of quality and longevity, but as a short and challenging span full of temptation and sadness that was preparation for another life. Here, for example, is the incomparable Puritan poet, Isaac Watts:
The Shortness and Misery of Life
Life for most people on earth is both less short and miserable than it was in Dr. Watts’ time, and for that we can be grateful. Still, that is one of Dr. Watts’ hymn texts that won’t be appearing in any of the newer hymnals. But to my lights it is closer to the truth of things than the glossy version of life spun out by Madison Avenue, and it is so starkly framed in an eternal context “where years of long salvation roll, and glory never dies.” How much more blessed to look forward to that than to declining days in a nursing home as our final stop.