I am sixty-nine, so maybe I am old, but to a seventy-year-old man, I’m still a kid. And maybe I have been known to pass gas or break wind as they say but who doesn’t?
Nevertheless, this sixty-nine-year old who from time to time breaks wind is most assuredly NOT an old fart.
How can I be sure?
First, in addition to listening to the classic rock and roll of my youth, I still have a penchant for new music or newer music at least. For instance, I like The Cure, which may actually be classified as a Goth band. I like Pearl Jam, a grunge band. I love U2. I listen to Zac Brown even while I listen to Sinatra. My musical tastes are eclectic in style as well as era.
Old men live in the past.
I write about the past because I learned a great deal as a kid growing up in the Bronx that I wish to share not just for nostalgia’s sake but to share a parable, to illustrate the importance of family and friends. It’s more important to apply these lessons today than ever before.
I would tell people that I went to an integrated school before I knew what integration was. I am not sure if we can even refer to it today as integration as diversity seems to be more in vogue to describe the melding of people of different colors, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions. In either case, Blessed Sacrament and St. Helena’s, the schools I attended before college were diversified for its day.
That is not to say that all was bliss or that there were no expressions of ill will, but whatever disagreements occurred were not limited to kids of different backgrounds. More often, it was different neighborhoods that served as the cause of prejudice and conflict.
I remember seeing West Side Story in the Loews American and while I liked the music and, if I am going, to be honest, the dancing too, the concept of the Sharks vs. the Jets was disquieting as many of my friends at Blessed Sacrament were Puerto Rican. My parents sacrificed to send their children to Catholic schools and made sure we paid attention to what being a Catholic mean.
In addition to never missing mass on Sunday or eating meat on Friday, I was taught to respect people, all people. My mother was always taking me and my brother Michael on day trips. Sometimes we went to Scarsdale on the New York Central (even back in the 1950’s I was riding a train) or taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry.
On one occasion, when we were coming back from lower Manhattan, we took a bus ride through the Bowery. In those days, that was the section where the homeless gathered. My mother was sure to point this out and to encourage me to include these people in my prayers. They were not “bums,” as they were often referred to, they were people who needed our prayers.
Don’t judge people by appearances, see the goodness in them. See Christ in them.
When I was in the eighth grade, I had to take a Catholic High School entrance exam. The format was new to us as it included a test booklet and a computer answer sheet. We would darken in circles associated with the letter of the correct multiple choice answer. Sister Margaret told us to be very neat as even a slight smudge from our Number 2 pencil might be marked as a wrong answer. She repeated the warning while looking right at me.
So, on the day of the exam, I raced through the questions in no time, and when I got to the last page of questions, I realized I had more answers than questions. Somehow I must have turned two pages at once. I only had about fifteen minutes to make right my mistake. I had to erase and erase and erase until I was able to answer all the questions.
My answer sheet was a mess.
I left the exam in a state of shock and depression. I got back to our apartment on Leland Avenue. No one was home, but as I went into our living room, I saw something on a table that caught my eye. It was a little, tri-fold prayer booklet. It had a statue on one page, a picture on another and in the middle the Prayer to St. Anne.
It noted that St. Anne, Mary’s Mother and, therefore, Jesus’ Grandmother, was the patron saint of special requests. Well, I had a special request. I immediately prayed to St. Anne on that Saturday in October 1963, and I have been saying it every day since.
I like to tell people that I pray to a Jewish Grandmother.
It’s my way of expressing confusion about anti-semitism. I just don’t get it how you can call yourself a Catholic or a Christian and have those feelings. It’s like being a Yankee fan and not liking Donny Baseball. Just stupid.
One of the things I would do in grammar school and high school was to read the New Testament. I don’t recall reading anything about Jesus telling us we couldn’t eat meat, or that priests couldn’t marry. He was actually a little critical of the priests of his day. Don’t get me started on that!
Anyway, the point is that I always took to heart many of the parables and sayings that Jesus offered.”What you do for the least of mine you do unto me”. That’s right up there with forgiving us our trespasses as we forgive others. Man, do we really want to be treated the same way we have treated some people?
I am not getting nostalgic here because I have no interest in returning to or living in the past. I do believe, however, that it is sheer folly to forget the lessons we have learned and not apply them to our lives today.
We know we shouldn’t hate people for being different.
We know that God loves all people.
We know that how people worship God is less important than the fact that they do.
We know there is evil in the world, but that is no excuse for us to spread evil.
We know what we have to do, and we have to get over our differences and help each other survive.
I don’t know anyone of the twenty-nine people that were killed last night in El Paso and Dayton. Nevertheless, I feel so bad for them and their families. This is just so wrong, and we all have to stand up to hatred that kills. It’s just not who we are as a nation.
God help us all.
I am not a cranky old man. At the moment I am just sad about what has happened to all of us. Being bombarded with accounts such as the ones we have seen last night and this morning takes its toll.
It’s time to listen to good music, read a great book and remember who we are.