Friday, November 03, 2006

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people

Professor Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky gave a wonderful address at Founders' Day today, centered on the metaphor of the well which Philander Chase dug when he founded Kenyon College.

And I thought of my favorite words from Bertolt Brecht...

Caesar conquered the Gauls.
Did he bring not even a cook with him?

An interesting metaphor for All Souls' Day. I was raised to remember this as the day when we pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory.1 It turns out that neither All Souls' nor Purgatory are ecumenically accepted beliefs, but I like them. I believe that not even death can stop us from aiding and comforting one another. I affirm that not even death stops our responsibility to give aid and comfort.

It's been on my mind a lot lately, how we're all in it together. I've been thinking about it when that Chevy commercial with the John Mellencamp song comes on. (Which is every 10 minutes during any sporting event, apparently). I can't believe that anyone who looked a survivor in the eye could use images of the Towers or the Lower 9th Ward to see trucks. I wish I could grab that designer by the throat and show him what I see every time I pass a blue tarp on a roof.

But the strongest images of people in that ad are of teams of helping people. The trucks go with relief workers and firemen, with kindness. If the message is "buy Chevy and help people," well, maybe that's not the worst message I've ever heard in a 60-second car ad.

I've also been thinking about Rob McElroy lately. Rob was on my high school speech and debate team. There were some kids on that team with natural talents for public speaking, and Bob, well, I'm not sure he was one. But he worked incredibly hard, and he really wanted to get better, and it seemed like he always had a positive attitude. It was easy to root for Rob, and to want to help him improve. Some people aren't leaders, but they're the glue that holds groups together, and Bob was one of those.

Bob came down with leukemia in high school. I remember him missing a lot of time, and coming back to school with pale skin, and wearing a hat to cover his bald spot. He tired easily, and he was still hard working and positive. His debating continued to get better, and the team went wild when he won.

Bob didn't make it. I saw the plaque on the wall, there with the other deceased alumni, a year or two after I graduated. It was surreal in its insufficiency.

A few years after that, CUA held a drive to get registrations in the National Marrow Donor Program. A pin prick, some test tubes, a membership card. One more chance at a long shot coming in for somebody. I can't say I did it "for" Bob, but I know he was part of the process on some level.

Perhaps, on All Souls' Day, we shouldn't just think about what we might do for the dead. We need to be open to what their memories might still do for us. As Mother Jones put it, pray for the dead but fight like hell for the living.

1 "Poor Souls In Purgatory" would be an awesome band name.


Blogger lemming said...

Immortality comes in many forms. There are few better than living on in the memory of one's peers for simply doing the very best possible under horrible circumstances.

Great post.

1:51 PM, November 03, 2006  
Anonymous michael said...

"The Philandering Chase" would be a pretty good band name as well. Maybe on a double bill.

10:39 AM, November 07, 2006  

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