Sunday, September 25, 2005

Oil Price Spike Teaches a Lesson

Go ahead. Call me a snob. Call me an elitist, out-of-touch, unrealistic snob. Now that we’ve established that, I want to let you in on a little secret: I’m glad that oil has gotten so expensive. I’m delighted that the cost of heating oil has forced my rent to go up. I’m glad it’s going to have an effect on most aspects of our economy, as we live in a world in which everything is transported from hither and yon.

You see, it’s about time for what my Mom calls “a rude awakening”.

Our society is a mess. We can’t feed ourselves or provide our own neighborhoods with the basic goods of daily life. Our reliance on cars has helped disintegrate what’s left of community centers. We’re fighting a war over a commodity, the barons of which rake in the profits while our world burns up under a smoggy sky. So I’m glad.

Not that I think it’ll be a real day of reckoning. Americans have gotten so far from holding any leader or business accountable for anything, that society is nearly completely predicated on absurdity. Denial rules the day. The president babbles into the microphones. Corporations sell out the human soul at an accelerating pace. And Americans let it all happen. We let ourselves get duped into fighting an elective war so greedy investors can maintain their profits on the backs of the world’s destitute. We let the oligarchs steal elections. We execute blacks, mock Muslims, scapegoat gays and atheists. We let the president off the hook for everything, from ignoring the drowning poor in the gulf coast to price gouging for gasoline to getting us into a war we can’t win. Who’s to blame for the shrinking middle class or the instability of contemporary American life? Who cares? Nothing makes sense.

So I sit here and smile.

I smile because I drive a car that gets over 35 miles per gallon if I’m careful. I smile because I carpool to work four to five days a week. I grin because I live in an apartment building where fifteen units share heat and insulate each other from the winter cold. I chuckle because, on my own two feet, I can get to the grocery store, the hardware store, lots of restaurants, one professional theater, two movie houses, two video stores, the DMV, a hair stylist, the pharmacy, my dentist, cafes, at least four book stores, the library, city hall, several music stores, an ice cream shop, a farmers’ market, and the homes of some of my dearest friends. Not to mention the places I don’t frequent, like a cell phone shop, a gym, an art supply store, used clothing shops, a printer, lots of lawyers and yoga studios, and half a dozen churches. I laugh because I can do all of this without a significant reliance on the internal combustion engine.

Maybe high oil prices will cause the oblivious masses to wise up, if not rise up. Perhaps they’ll drive smaller cars, take the bus, live in higher-density clusters, reconstitute communities in which members look out for each other and foster safety and responsibility, turn the thermostat down, shut off a few lights, and buy local. Until then, they’ll have to begin paying their share. We all will. It’s about time the economic cost of our fatuous American lifestyles caught up with the social and environmental price we are so willing to ignore.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Believe It!

The following actually took place a month ago in the breakfast room of a hotel in Birmingham, Alabama. The woman is around my mother’s age.

Her: Good morning.

Me: Good morning.

Her (gently brushing by my elbow, speaking sweetly): Let me just reach past you for a muffin.

Me (preparing my plate): Sure.

Her (taking a muffin): Where are you from?

Me: Vermont. You?

Her: Montgomery. Are you here for the Apparitions?

Me: No, I’m here on business.

Her: Oh.... Well, are you Catholic?

Me (cautious, interested): Um... yes.

Her: Have you ever heard of Our Lady of Medugoria?

Me (brightening): Oh, yeah. My grandmother’s cousin has been to Yugoslavia to see it.

Her: Oh, you have to hear about this. What's your name?

Me: Matthew.

Her: I'm Debbie. Come join me for breakfast.

Me: Uh....

Her: Yes, come sit with me. I’ll tell you all about it.

Me: Okay.

We finish preparing our plates. I join her at her table.

Her: So you know, the Blessed Mother is appearing about ten miles away from here.

Me(surprised): In Alabama?

Her: Yes. Just south off of I-65. The woman, Maria, who the Virgin first appeared to, has come from Medugoria and is witnessing the Blessed Virgin in a field just off the state highway. It’s very close. You have to see it.

Me: Oh. Interesting.

Her: Do you ever pray to the blessed Virgin?

Me: Yes... well, I used to a lot. She’s my patron saint, because I was born on her birthday.

Her: When’s your birthday?

Me: September eighth.

Her: Oh, no, no. I’m sorry to disappoint you, Matthew, but She appeared to Maria and told her that today is Her birthday. You see, all that stuff was just made up by the Catholic church. They don’t really know when she was born, But now we know it’s August fifth. Your birthday’s the Immaculate Conception.

Me: No it isn’t. That’s December eighth.

Her: Oh.... I see you don’t wear a ring. You’re not married.

Me: No.

Her: You’re going to be a priest!

Me: Oh, goodness, no.

Her: Ah. Are you single?

Me: Yes. Divorced, actually.

Her: Oh, I understand. My son’s divorced. He’s only twenty-four. You may think I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I do. I have been with my husband for nearly thirty years, and it can be trying. He doesn’t come to the Apparitions with me. He doesn’t believe in them. He’s not easy to live with, but I’ve stayed with him. You know, it’s hard, but life takes sacrifices. Marriage is a sacred bond. But you could try to work it out. Are you praying for a reconciliation?

Me: No.

Her: Well now, is there any chance you might reconcile?

Me (with a guffaw): No! Was she ever mad at me!

Her: Hmm. Is she Catholic?

Me: No.

Her: Christian?

Me: No, she’s Jewish.

Her: Oh. Well, sometimes it’s better just to let things go. (Pause.) Did you have any children?

Me: No.

Her: Well, you should really come with us tonight. It’ll help you heal. You need to see it. You should come down tonight for six o’clock. That’s when it’s going to start. We belong to a group called Caritas. This is Gregory. Maybe I should let you men discuss this together. That’d be better.

Me: That’s not necessary....

Gregory moves away to get his breakfast. She indicates over half a dozen women at two tables.

Her: All these ladies are here for the Apparitions. Do you think you’ll be back in time to drive with us?

Me: No, we work ‘til five and then have an hour to get back.

Her: Oh. That’s too bad. Well, maybe you could join us afterwards.

Me: I don’t think that’d work. We’re supposed to do things as a team, and I don’t think my supervisor would let me go.

Her: Well invite him along!

Me: Oh, he’s not Catholic. I don’t think he’d understand.

Her: What if we pray for it? If you’re really guided by your faith and pray, you can make things happen.

Me: I don’t know about that.

Around this time, an older lady, perhaps around seventy, approaches the table.

Lady: Excuse me, ma’am, but you look like a very strong woman.

Her: Oh no, no, no. I’m weak! It’s Our Lady who gives me strength.

Lady: Well, you look like you are close to our Lord, and I need to speak with you.

Her: Why’s that, dear?

Lady: I’ve... I’ve been having a very difficult time recently.

Her: What’re your troubles?

Lady: Well... I’ve had a bit of depression. And anxiety.

Her: Yes! Yes!

Lady: And I just find myself crying for no reason all the time. I’m so weak and sad. I don’t know what to do.

Her: Pray to Our Lady. You have to pray to Our Lady.

They continue, the Lady agreeing with Her advice, and the Lady departs.

Her: Do you go to church regularly?

Me: Not as much as my mother.

Her: You’re not a lapsed Catholic?

Me: Kind of.

Her: And how does that make your mama feel?

Me: I don’t know.

Her: My son is just like that. He thinks I’m foolish coming down here for these things. So does my husband. I say to my son, come back to church, but he won’t, not even for his mama. (Pause.) Do you think your mama would like it if you came back to church?
Me: She might.

Her: Yes.... Let’s imagine that I’m your mama. And your mama says to you, son, you goin’ to get yourself down to church with me, ain’t ya? Is that what your mother would say? Is that what she sounds like?

Me: No. (Chuckling.) We’re Yankees, so she doesn’t talk that way.

Her: Well, you know. You get the idea. Don’t you want to make your mama happy?

Me: Sure.

Her: You can start by going to church. This Sunday, go to your mama and tell her you want to go to church with her. Won’t she be happy?

She roots around in her purse.

Her: Here. I must have something in here for you. These are prayer cards. This one is the Blessed Mother. And this one, Saint Jude. The patron saint of lost causes. He’ll help you get back to church. What else do I have in here. Ahhhh! Isn’t that beautiful?

She presents me with three prayer cards. Some are from funerals and have the name and dates of the deceased person’s life on the reverse. The last card is a glossy photograph of a plastic crucifix on a bright blue background.

Her: You can take all of these. What else do I have in here?

She fishes two religious medals from her purse.

Her: These are medals of Our Lady of Medugoria. They were blessed by a priest AND Maria, the woman having the Apparitions. I’ll give you these if you make me a promise.

Me: What’s that?

Her: If you promise that you’ll start going to church with your mother.

Me: I can’t promise you that. It probably won’t happen.

Her: Well, here. Take two, one for your mother.

She recites the prayer, Hail Mary. Just audibly, I mutter the words along with her.

Her: You know what, Matthew? I’m going to pray for you tonight. You want children, don’t you?

Me: Yes, very much so.

Her: Well, I’m gonna pray for you to have children of your own someday.

Me: Thank you.

Her: Alright, I need to be going. But I’ll pray for you tonight. And don’t forget: six o’clock.

Then, we shake hands, wish each other well, clear the table, and go our separate ways.