Friday, June 29, 2012

Mexican Night in Heaven

Hello from long ago!  Did you wonder what had happened to me? After my last column on my fear of sharks, perhaps you feared I had, in a reckless attempt to overcome my hangup, gone to the San Diego Zoo, leapt into an aquarium to embrace a great white and been devoured?

Well, except for the fact that the great white was not a shark but my third quarter at UCLA, it did go something like that.

It's amazing: each year, I take few classes in the third quarter than I do in either of the other two, and nevertheless it is like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (or spelling Kilimanjaro, for that matter; did I get it right?). You put so much effort into those first two quarters, the same amount really that you would put into two semesters, and then you get to the third and it's like Wait, what now?  I mean, I'm happy to give a short encore, but freaking Swan Lake? Come on.

As a friend likes to say of late, "Boo hoo, me and my first world problems."

At this point I'm going to assume I'm writing into the ether, those loyal, brave few that kept waiting for something new to appear having moved on to finer, better tended pastures.  That's all right.  When I worked at America Magazine, I learned very quickly that every article you write is cast out into a silent unknown.   Perhaps it reaches a thousand people, perhaps no one. All you can do is let it go, your little message in a bottle, and hope that it reaches someone who might enjoy it.  And so I do again now.

Why did it have to be sharks? 

Actually, what prompts me to start again is not just the quarter finally being over, but a strange sort of symmetry. This column is called "Gone Walkabout", and the reason is because it began as a travelogue of sorts of my journey through Australia during the last stage of my Jesuit formation, January-August 2008.  A spiritual travelogue, if you will, but with columns about spiders and beaches and dollar coins.

And today, as I write you, I am back in Australia, spending 2 1/2 months researching a feature or maybe a pilot that I'd like to write about the political system in Australia.  I've spent the last two weeks, in fact, in the federal capitol of Canberra talking to politicians, staffers, journalists, priests, guards, limo drivers and the guy down the street who asked me a question and ended up stuck listening to me for over an hour.  It's been amazing, and hopefully in the coming weeks I can share a few stories with you. The Australian system of government is radically different than the American one, and whether it's simply because it's different or because I fell so hard for Australia when I came here before, I am endlessly fascinated by it.

Today, though, I just wanted to mention a great man, Peter Steele, SJ, (above) an Australian Jesuit, who just passed away Thursday. Peter was a poet, and a great one at that, playful and wacky and erudite all at the same time.  I met Peter through his poetry when I was over here before; he had written a set of poems focused on the different important moments of the Mass called "A Mass for Anglesea" that just blew me away.  (In fact, maybe over the next week or so in addition to writing some columns I'll give you bit by bit those poems, as they're incredibly rich.)

When I came back to the States, I found out Peter was going to be at Georgetown for a semester, and I arranged to spend a weekend with him, doing a profile for America. We talked endlessly about his poetry, his life, our vocation as Jesuits, and I taped him reading a number of his poems, too.

The podcast that includes those audio performances is still to be found here. If you have a few minutes today, check out the whimsical poem "Mexican Night", to be found at 8:20 on the recording, which imagines Mexican Night in Heaven, with a cast of characters including such luminaries as St. Peter, Voltaire and Mata Hari.

I have no doubt that these days Peter is up there with himself, wearing a sombrero, enjoying a margarita himself, and as he says of them, "more gratified than you can believe."

He will be missed, loved and not forgotten.

PS If you want to read the original article I wrote about Peter, I'll post it tomorrow.


Shelly said...

Glad to see you're still alive :-)
(and yes, I checked every day...every day!!).

Jim McDermott, S.J. said...

Sorry I've been away! I'll try to be better! Thanks for you, Shelley!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful pic of a true gent! Can I ask where you found it?