Category Archives: history

We remember together.

While the weather was of the wintry-spring sort, cold and rainy, we had a typical Memorial Day in several ways. There was barbecued meat and watermelon served on a red checkered tablecloth, and more importantly, a visit to the cemetery.

None of our friends or family are buried nearby, but not far away in Colorado Springs is the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery, which was the perfect place to visit today. The rain had stopped and it was only cloudy. We walked through the wet grass to read the markers on many graves, and we prayed.

As Liam and Laddie and I were straggling behind along the row of freshest graves, some from as recent as this month, we met a smiling woman leading a poodle, who asked us if we had seen the grave marker remembering an Air Force wife for being a “worrier.” Hmm…. no, we hadn’t! Was the worrier her relative? She said no. I quickly picked up on the fact that she was headed toward a different one of those recent graves, that of her husband who passed last year.

She began to tear up, and apologized for it. I asked if I could give her a hug, and learned that they had been married for 53 years. It was a sweet widows’ embrace that warmed us both on that drizzly morning.

While we had been wandering among the graves, we’d seen a soldier in camo going from grave to grave saluting smartly. After a time he began to play a pennywhistle, and to run through one battle or marching song after another. As we were leaving we sang along with his little flute, “God Bless America.”

Amen.

Natan’s Psalter

A podcast I listened to at the beginning of Lent encouraged me in my desire to spend more time reading the Psalms. It was Fr. Patrick Reardon’s homily in which he exhorted his own parishioners on three points, one of which was the need to pray more during Lent. He suggested the Psalms, because the use of them is a tradition that was without doubt handed down to us by the Apostles.

Fr. Patrick told the moving story about the book of Psalms that Natan Sharansky‘s wife gave him the night before he was put in a Soviet prison, and how much it meant to him during the many years he spent there. Sharansky’s story of it is on the site of the National Library of Israel, where I found this photo.

If you would like to listen to Fr. Patrick’s homily yourself it can be found here: “As Though it Were Our Last.”

Intersecting losses make a harbinger.

Five speeches that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave  in the U.S. and in Britain in 1975 and 1976 make the book, Warning to the West. Today I sat on a log at the beach and got on with reading this collection that I’d started before Christmas; a while later I sat in my car overlooking the ocean and finished it.

It’s a nice little book, if you’d like a taste of Solzhenitsyn but don’t feel up to tackling one of his novels or The Gulag Archipelago. He said he prefers to write, but his speeches are powerful, and complement his writings. Taken altogether, these talks present a lot of history “from the inside,” and the perspective of someone whose analysis is based on thorough knowledge. His unique vantage point combines with true wisdom.

In different striking and blunt words to different groups, such as U.S. legislators and BBC listeners, he gives his prophetic message. While he uses details of events that were then recent history to make his points to his audience at the time, the heart of his concerns is ever pertinent and enduring.

“There is a German proverb which runs Mut verloren — alles verloren. ‘When courage is lost, all is lost.’ There is another Latin one, according to which loss of reason is the true harbinger of destruction. But what happens to a society in which both these losses — the loss of courage and the loss of reason — intersect? This is the picture which I found the West presents today.”

-Aleksandr Sozhenitsyn, 1976

2021 – The Year of Dostoevsky

Today Nun Cornelia has kindly given us a reading recommendation in her article, “Time to Read (or Reread) Dostoevsky.” Her reason for putting forth the idea at this time is partly that today is the 140th anniversary of the death of Feodor Dostoevsky. And not only that, but 2021 marks 200 years since his birth in 1821.

Even if you haven’t read his works, you are likely to recognize his name as a writer, whose skill Sister Cornelia describes: “The details of all his characters, their mannerisms, their actions, their thoughts and words, even their names, all paint individual pictures of the human condition in relation to God and the devil—pictures that don’t fade with time, and are applicable in any culture.”

In a short essay she gives details about his childhood and temperament as described by his parents (hot-headed and cheeky), and his “morose” youth, during which he spent time in military service and then began to study literature.

“His compassion for humanity led him to socialist circles, which, as he would eventually understand, were in fact seething with anti-humanity. These attempts at social reform would also end in failure for him, and he nearly lost his life in front of a firing squad. His sentence was commuted at the last minute, and he was sent to Siberia for prison and then exile. In prison he was respected by all, but at the same time considered a dangerous revolutionary and kept in shackles and manacles for his entire sentence.”

The upbringing he was given, and the era he was given to live and suffer in, certainly contributed to his great soul; and because his writing “could not be separated in any way from his own deep convictions, his books lead us in a mysterious way to those deep convictions.”

Sister Cornelia details some of the many ways that Dostoevsky suffered, and the way his wife suffered with him for his sins and weaknesses. She ends with thanks for all his works that she hopes we will read, and read again.

“But neither can we forget that an underlying quality present in him from childhood was also key to producing the literary heritage that we have today: stubbornness. Through all his failures—and apparently, he took critical failure very hard as his epileptic fits were brought on by them—he never gave up his calling and forged ahead with novels that change people’s lives.”

At the bottom of the article are links to several others on Feodor Dostoevsky. You can find it all here.