Edwin O’Connor – The Edge of Sadness

87202As has happened so many times throughout this project, this book fell in my lap at exactly the right time. I reflected last night as I finished up this book of the changes that have taken place over the course of this project for Drew and I. The most recent change in my wife and my life has to do with issues covered in this book. I have mentioned in previous posts that I started seminary at some point in the duration of this project, and the most recent change under that heading is that I have put that pursuit on pause. This decision did not come at any crisis of faith, or loss of what we Christian’s call ‘calling’, but more of a crisis of purpose. I do not need to go into the details of it on this blog because that is not what it is for, but I will say that I have come to firmer idea of what life and God have in store for my life. I believe that has more to do with being and remaining married than any other grand scheme yet to be unveiled to me. So as I finished this book living in my fourth residence in the process of this project, I looked back as the main character Hugh Kennedy was labeled as doing too often, and I reminisced of the things that have transpired, the battles won and lost throughout this unusual journey Drew and I are both on. I also don’t need to recap these happenings, many of them are pasted here on the walls of these entries. Our lives are not the focus of this project, but for furniture in the room of our experience of these texts and because they are present and we keep rearranging the room, I feel like I keep bumping into a piece that I forgot we had moved prior and long for its previous placement. So as with this book, Hugh looked down at his childhood and adulthood friend’s face in the casket and saw the little boy he once knew so long ago and remembered the hard man he became. I remember starting this journey living in Dekalb or Sycamore finishing up my undergraduate degree. I remember our trip to Des Moines, Iowa, and all the little shops in between. I remember that my life looked a lot different then. Drew and I were different people to each other then. Not that our lives are worse now, far from it I think. But they are certainly quite different. I look the rest of my family who are simple country folk, and their lives go on like a flat and straight river. There are certain upsets and pitfalls along the way, but mostly for the last 15 or so years, their lives are fairly the same. My wife and my life are constantly changing, transforming, possibly curdling at times, but changing definitely. Perhaps this a plague of youth, but it seems to where thin on my now like the knees wearing out on your favorite pair of jeans. So I reflect with Hugh now on his life and times, captured so eloquently by O’Connor with all of his hints, slow reveals, and manipulations like he was unveiling to you a deep, dark secret that you have waited for a family member or friend to share for sometime. The way O’Connor’s characters relate is very familiar to me as it reminded me a lot of how my mother’s family relates to one another. There is no great storied tapestry amongst my cousins because I believe that my mother’s siblings have so much amongst themselves that we step back and watch them from a distance. I have come to appreciate this about my family now more than ever that I live back amongst them.

Another thread that ran very close to home for me was the issue of the priesthood and seminary life that was explored throughout this work. As I said earlier, I have stepped away now and perhaps for good to pursue what I believe my life path more closely aligns with but the stories relayed in this book are quite keen in their depiction of clerical life. I do not know much about the day to day life of a priest, and I know even less about what a seminary would have looked like in the 60’s or previously as it has to do with an older priest, so perhaps the 30’s or 40’s I am not sure, but some things remain the same, a great deal of pressure about the accuracy of decisions. This came through perfectly for O’Connor who I do not take to be a very religious man from the wikipedia entry I read of him before beginning this work. I do not know much about his private life, but I do know that he never spent time as a priest which is astounding to me that he could capture the rhythm of decisions so well. The cool demeanor most priests profess as standard issue for the cloth. I do not have this cool demeanor, and I hope that I never well. Further than this though the beautiful thing of this text is that it captures the elusiveness of God. For a priest, there is little talk throughout this text of God or the Holy Spirit which I found to be unusual for the inner monologue of a priest, that is where I find the retelling of events slightly stifled by O’Connor’s possible lack of the earnest faith that Hugh Kennedy would have had, but nevertheless he captures his personality and daily routine perfectly. This part of the discussion is the same as comic book fans review of the most recent Iron Man film to be sure, but it does have its place. Nevertheless, O’Connor captures what C.S. Lewis would call ‘further up, and further in’ of the way of life in pursuit of God. I refer to it here as a pursuit because the Holy Spirit for some, myself included, seems to be what the Irish used to call the Wild Goose, always flittering away. You may find in a moment of astonishing clarity something like sand through your finger tips, and before you know you had it, it is gone. A story from the gospel of Luke is a perfect example of this, that after Jesus’ resurrection he meets with two men on the road to Emmaus, but Jesus’ disguised himself to test their hearts for trouble or doubt perhaps. They walk along for sometime, and Jesus relays to them the nature of his life and ministry, his death and resurrection through the Law and the Prophets. They decide to spend the night at a midway point on their journey where they dine together, these two men and the Lord. As Jesus, in disguise, breaks the bread at the table, they realize that the traveler they had been talking with all afternoon was actually Jesus. It is at this moment that Jesus passes on from them. This is the elusiveness that Hugh Kennedy, and O’Connor express exactly. Priests and Pastors who earnestly pursuit God in their ministries know the score on this one, and come to terms with their own private relationships with God. It is captured in Hugh’s last exchange with his friend and fellow priest John Carmody. John speaks prophetically into Hugh’s life and ministry, and dies suddenly leaving Hugh with the weight to carry forward by himself. Hugh comes to this realization as the bishop, a wonderful character in his own right, pays an unexpected visit where he has to use this bit of prophecy to good use and does so in one of the most minor events in the book that truly relays this type of life so perfectly.

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