Dad has been much on my mind lately, for many reasons.
Dad’s been on my mind because I can’t help thinking how much he would have liked the new Pope.
Dad was raised Catholic. Neither he nor Mom wanted to bring up children in a divided family, so Dad converted. He became a dedicated and active Methodist – a founding member of Bermuda Hundred UMC, a long-time member of its board and, for years, its lay leader. He even played on the dart-ball team.
But I’m personally convinced that Dad remained, at heart, a good Catholic boy. If he loved Mom enough to change churches, he also loved his own mother enough to keep a place in his heart for the Virgin Mary and the saints.
There were signals.The most personal gift Dad ever gave me was the St. Christopher medal he wore around the world during World War II. I’ve worn it for forty years.
Anyway, I’m sure Dad would loved Pope Francis, a man whose simplicity and generosity of spirit seem strikingly at odds with our narcissistic times. The new Pope has stunned the Church with his outspoken concern about serving the poor.
Not judging them, or preaching at them – but feeding them, housing them, and caring for them in their distress. In his extended interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, reprinted in English in the magazine America, Pope Francis said:
“I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds...”
Dad would have nodded at that. He grew up in Hopewell, a factory town, in Depression times. His father was a barber, and in hard times, unemployed mill-hands seldom pay for haircuts.
When Dad became – thanks to the G.I. Bill – a successful lawyer and legislator, he took great interest in the problems of ordinary people. During eighteen years in the Virginia General Assembly, he focused on education, which he saw as the way for young people of talent and ambition to rise from humble backgrounds – as he had done.
Francis I would have been just his sort of Pope.
Lately, Dad is on my mind in connection with Washington’s seemingly endless gridlock. As a state legislator, Dad was part of a generation of public servants more interested in solving problems than in finding someone to blame.
Dad’s generation had survived hard times and fought a global war against an almost unimaginable tyranny. After the War, they’d confronted the awesome menace of the Soviet Union – even as they worked to make America the freest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world.
They spent their spare time building communities – establishing new churches, little leagues, civic organizations, little theatres – all the social infrastructure of new, thriving suburbs.
Men and women of that generation – most of them – didn’t have time for artificial problems and self-inflicted wounds. They were doers.
Dad was the greatest problem-solver I’ve ever known. Decades before Stephen B. Covey began writing his Seven Habits books, Dad was a devoted practitioner of the “win-win solution.”
It’s hard to imagine Dad, and the generation he served with at the State Capitol, engaging in the sort of self-destructive behavior we’re seeing in Washington.
Dad was on my mind Friday night, when I saw the astounding new movie, Gravity – a brilliant, beautiful, intensely suspenseful movie set in near-earth orbit.
Technically, Gravity is science fiction. But there are no monsters or aliens – just the realistic threat of a cloud of orbiting, high-speed junk from an exploded satellite which destroys the shuttle – leaving its two survivors, played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, floating in space and out of communication with Houston.
And their orbit will take them through the deadly cloud of space junk every 90 minutes.
Dad would have loved Gravity. As an Air Corps navigator, he was fascinated by the stars – which were the principal means of navigation in those days. He loved gazing at the heavens on a clear night, and teaching me the constellations.
By extension, he was thrilled with the whole notion of space travel.
Moreover, having flown around the world in a B-17, Dad would have related easily to the suspense inherent in depending upon a fragile machine, high above the surface of the Earth – with no assurance of a safe return.
Oh, and he would have loved Sandra Bullock. Dad always appreciated feminine beauty, especially when possessed by a nice, unpretentious, clever woman. At 50, Sandra Bullock is lovelier than ever – and her performance would have knocked him out.
Dad is on my mind because, this Thursday, he would have been 95. He’s been gone for 21 years, and there’s so much he’s missing.
As I miss him.