FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Though Invisible to Us, Our Dead Are Not Absent

Those titular words were sent to me by Fr. Daniel Berrigan shortly before he died.

It is a glorious spring day as I write.  The day my father died was also glorious, and I cried like a baby. It was 25 years ago today, May 1, 1993. To the young it must seem like a long time ago.  To me it is yesterday. I am his namesake for which I feel blessed.  Every day that passes I realize how profound his influence has been on me.  Perhaps not obvious to others, it runs like an underground stream that carries me forward and soothes my soul through the passage of days. The early morning he died was so beautiful, almost as beautiful as he was.  The call from the hospital came at 5 A.M.  When I was leaving his apartment shortly thereafter, the birds were in full throat, singing madly.  The flowering bushes leading into his apartment building were in full bloom and the smell intoxicating. The morning was arriving and my father departing and my heart was aching. The bittersweet juxtaposition of his day of departure has never left me, nor has the feel and smell of him as we would hug in those final years as he was weakening and preparing for his restless farewell.  My father never waivered from his faith that “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.”  Those words ring their reminders in my ears continually.

Now it is spring again. Yesterday as I drove to work through the gentle New England spring rain, I noticed how fast the grass was turning green and how in a few days the weather will turn quite warm and the flowers and foliage will explode with joy. “Explode,” yes.  That word dragged my thoughts across the world. And I thought of all the bombs and missiles exploding throughout the Middle East and the guns of the killers exploding everywhere, extinguishing the possibility for joy for so many. And the nuclear ones hiding in their silos and those treacherously sliding silently under the world’s oceans in Trident submarines, primed to kill us all.  And the indifference of so many people to this carnage, initiated and sustained by our own government.  Or was it indifference or something else?  It seemed to me as I wondered in the rolling silence of the car that it was that and yet wasn’t justthat.  There was a missing link that I couldn’t fully understand, and still don’t.  Was it fear?

Then I recalled that yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Dan Berrigan two years ago, another father and mentor whose influence runs through my veins. Dan and my father never met, and in ways they were opposites, but yet a marriage of opposites.  Both trained by Jesuits, and Dan a Jesuit priest, who became a renegade radical priest, a criminal felon in opposition to the American Empire and its terrifying violence; my father, eight years older, a gentle more conservative soul inspired by the same faith expressed in quieter and more personal ways and possessed of a gift with words equal to the eloquence of Dan’s writing but more humorous and sometimes acerbic.  Dan, the serious poet; my father, a master of the epistolarian’s art and quite the serious comedian.

The tragedian and comic, faithful to the paradox of our condition.  In one of his last letters to me my father wrote, “I am hooked up to a heart monitor and have been examined by a neurosurgeon named Block.  I think he is H.R. Block of tax forms.  I have also just signed a consent form for a cat scan.  I think that’s to see if I like cats.”

And of course Dan, in his role as dissident, wrote so famously, fifty years ago this May 17, as he stood burning draft records in Catonsville, Maryland with his brother Phil and seven other brave resisters to the war against Vietnam:

Excuse us good friends for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house.  We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.  For we are sick at heart.  Our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children….We say killing is disorder.  Life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize….In a time of death, some men… the resisters…those who preach and embrace the truth, such men overcome death, their lives are bathed in the light of resurrection, the truth has set them free…

Who am I?  Who are we?

The mystical and political poet Kenneth Rexforth wrote in “Growing”:

I and thou, from the one to
The dual, from the dual
To the other, the wonderful,
Unending, unfathomable
Process of becoming each
Ourselves for the other.

How do we become who we are? asked Nietzsche, while paradoxically telling us. But in speaking paradoxically, he, the alleged murderer of God but himself a paradoxical lover of Jesus, spoke the truth about us all, or at least about me. I am a paradox, a combination of influences of those who came before me and now whisper to me from the shadows and those living friends and enemies who inspire me. Their spirits flow into me while I flow on.  It is a vast conspiracy of the communion of the living and the dead.

I can hear my father whisper to me what he wrote years ago: “The other day Mama saw a death notice of an Edward J. Curtin but happily he came from Brooklyn, so it wasn’t either of us. I told you things would get better.”

I am laughing through my tears as I recall how he would often end his epistles with the word pax, and then further on the question – quién sabe? (who knows?).

I don’t know, but knowledge is overrated.

The world is beautiful, and we must save it by listening to the voices of our blessed dead, who instill us with life and love and the spirit of resistance.  We must carry it on.

 

More articles by:

Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely.  He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Craig Collins
Why Did Socialism Fail?
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposal Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail