To the north of Rome, in the city of Milan, Dad was the subject of much writing and reminiscing by Marco Respinti, journalist, blogger, and founder of the Centro Studi Russell Kirk. For those who read Italian, here and here are the links to those pieces.
Below is a re-post from my Remus and Rome blog two years ago, when we made a pilgrimage to Siena:
"April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain." So begins "The Burial of the Dead", the first section of T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land. The first line of that quote was permanently emblazoned into my memory eighteen years ago on April 29, the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, the morning my father died when I was eighteen years old. The next day, the final day of April, snow fell. Hope for the long-awaited return of Spring wilted, along with the budding lilacs that abound at Piety Hill, and I recalled those lines from Eliot my Dad often quoted. On this last day of April I'm noting the truth of Eliot's characterization of this cathartic month, and how growth towards wisdom and change for the better- though much hoped for- often comes at the cost of sacrificing complacent comfort, as Eliot describes in the next line:"Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers."
My Dad's tombstone bears another quote from Eliot that became particularly relevant during this cathartic April: "The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."
From Eliot's poem "Little Gidding" in his work, The Four Quartets, the full sentence is this:
"And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living."
I've often wondered over that quote in the last eighteen years, but now it speaks more clearly to me with the accumulation of everyday allegories and minor miracles that provide me with evidence that the dead continue to communicate with the living in this mystical and invisible community we all belong to. Though I cannot claim to understand it fully, there is something to be said for Jung's theory of the collective unconscious that is not bound by constraints of past, present and future. Or, as Eliot more eloquently puts it:
"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past."
Once a young nephew innocently asked me at what point in history did miracles stop occurring. I should not have been surprised by the question as we live in a materialist age but it did cause me to stop and reflect that these everyday minor miracles are today mostly seen as somehow taboo and not discussed. But perhaps it was always this way; even famous mystics like St. Catherine of Siena were a cause of embarrassment at first, by her own parents no less, until her vocation could no longer be denied and she was given free reign to change history.
My father was fond of mystics like St. Catherine, and mystical writers like Eliot, Flannery O'Connor, and Chesterton. It is probably no wonder, then, that this month I have run into them at every turn, my father no doubt urging me to take up their books and read, in order to better guide me along the path of life.
It was Flannery O'Connor, in fact, who first taught me to view everyday life through an allegorical lens. Though she never traveled far from home, she captured profound, disturbing, and humorous truths about human nature in the rural setting of the South. Rural Michigan was my father's favorite setting for his own tales as well, and he found as much allegorical material in the lives and deaths of our multi-generational local farming families as he did in the cultural and artistic wealth of Rome.
As an eighteen-year-old, I knew little of St. Catherine of Siena. Eighteen years later, as Providence would have it, I found myself on a pilgrimage bus to her home to attend a Mass on the vigil of her feast day. Afterward, I explored Siena's stunningly beautiful cathedral where St. Catherine was baptized. Just before leaving, I happened to notice a handwritten sign next to the chapel of "Madonna of the Vow" that informed visitors that the chapel was reserved for Masses for the dead. Having promised my mother that I would obtain something special for her in Siena, I fulfilled that vow by entering the sacristy and arranging for a Mass to be said for my father on October 19, his birthday.
On the three hour bus ride on the way back to Rome my head was throbbing from the amount of visual, intellectual, and spiritual richness I had just absorbed in that one church alone. But that was not to be the end of the "messages from the other side", as I discovered today. This morning I put a CD by Mars Hill Audio (Journal 73) into the stereo to play without looking at the subject, to distract me from the tediousness of cleaning. I was amused, and only slightly surprised, to hear that the topic was Flannery O'Connor. Without exaggeration, every interviewee seemed to be speaking directly to something on my heart.
Here's one example from author Susan Srigley: "I think that for her (Flannery O'Connor), what the artist is trying to do is to look at that intersection between time and eternity- where time and eternity meet- and what human beings do in the midst of that intersection." Host Ken Myers continues, "Artists like Flannery O'Connor insist on seeing the spiritual reality in the physical fact."
These are the type of minor miracles that have made up the month of April, not so cruel this year.
"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."
-T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding" in The Four Quartets