Saturday, February 4, 2012

Biographical Disclaimer Part One

      When I was thirteen years young, I was confirmed in a rite of passage in Saint Therese of the Little Flower Catholic Church, Coral Gables, Florida. At that time I took a confirmation name Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi. By that moment in time I had already spent countless hours in deep contemplation alone in nature, in the tropical forest of Viscaya, in a place called Simpson Hammock, or walking along the shoreline of Rickenbacker Causeway or perhaps sitting beneath or in the branches of a tree anywhere.

Sometimes I would simply sit in a church listening to the groans of wooden pews, watching sunlight pass through stained glass windows. Others times I would go for long, aimless walks throughout my neighborhood or into adjoining ones, noting differences in houses and surrounding landscape.

When I learned about Saint Francis my reaction was, I get it.  It is fair to say that I sensed an affinity for his teachings and that that understanding influenced my life along the way, perhaps profoundly.

But no, emphatically, No, I cannot claim to have followed his example in most things. During that period of my life I tried to become pious but failed miserably at that. Knowing this, I would never claim to be “holier than thou.” On the contrary, I’ve done my share of sinning and then more.

Yet, there is one influence from St. Francis that stayed with me most of this life: accumulating large stores of money has never been my priority. I admit this. It may well be “a sin” against modern society but at best the pursuit of money for its own sake has been a secondary interest, if it ever did make it to the number two rank. It has not been “my Cup of Tea.” 

Of course, this put me out of step with the large majority of my peers in our global culture. And of course, I’ve lived within certain limits because of this. 

Perhaps I’ve missed out on a lot of “due decadence” during my life up to the present, although I have no regrets about that. 

I’ve had to work as I grew up, beginning at age eleven, as our family of five siblings and one (continuously) working parent of two at home had few nickels to rub together.  

Saint Francis, though, gave me an important gift or perspective on life, that one may retain one’s dignity as a human being, a “Child of God,” while subscribing to poverty, either involuntarily or voluntarily. Francis chose poverty of his own volition, yet no sane person would claim that he lacked personal dignity. By our standards and knowledge of his contemporaries, Francis lived in rags but would not be labeled “White Trash” as some would tag people today. 

At home, conditions were such that some of my siblings and I went to work before becoming a teenager. For me, it was delivering newspapers by bicycle, folding pizza boxes, learning to make pizzas and other goodies by the age of fourteen, and various other things as opportunity came along. It was a school away from school  for me.

While collecting for an afternoon newspaper, The Miami News before it was purchased and shut down by The Miami Herald, I met hundreds of older persons living in a historic district of Miami, just south of the Miami River and on both sides of Miami Avenue. The famous nightclub-bar, Tobacco Road  was in my territory. In visiting many of those customers, I could not help but notice how each coin was carefully scrutinized and counted when making a payment. I knew that many in that area had to do this to live, and to eat every day, and I sensed that many also would skip meals in order save for the end of the week or the end of the month. Time after time, someone would be home when I rang but not answer the door. I made it a point to lose their stub for that week, and often for multiple weeks, and hope for a payment the next time. It’s no exaggeration to say that a third of my earnings were left behind this way, and I continued this practice for about six years with the two newspapers, leaving the day’s propaganda at doorsteps seven days a week. 

Looking back, I have no regrets for leaving thousands of dollars behind me in this way because from so many of those endearing, wonderful, struggling people, some the poorest of subscribers in the city and others among the wealthiest, I learned something about life that’s endured. 

Many of us will age, and reach 70, or 75, or even beyond 85 years. The world will change rapidly and in exceedingly profound ways around us through the energy and activity of younger generations. For one reason or another, I learned before my Confirmation, many of us will arrive at a place alone, living alone, and we will have to be cautious with each expenditure. It is also predicted that many of us will need to work until our last day, if that is possible. For millions of us Baby Boomers economic conditions will not be as good generally  as they were for elderly persons I met in the 1960s. 

I’ve seen  the future that many of us face. The necessity of frugality is nothing to fear, and there is nothing undignified  in thrift, or in poverty. Personal dignity is, as Saint Francis taught, very much a state of mind and a state of being.
 
Thus, it is far worse to find oneself alone, isolated, or friendless  in our declining years, unless that is a personal choice for solitude. This can and will happen to some of us, especially those who define self-worth in terms of material things, then find that there is little of that left during waning years of one’s life, or at any time.

Now, we are at point in history that can best be described as an upheaval. The significance of current changes that are happening in political, social and economic venues all point to this, although for many the collective crux may be imperceptible or elusive to define. Nevertheless the upheaval is happening all around us. Because of this, I cannot stress enough the importance of reaffirming and strengthening any bonds you may have with others. Whenever possible, set aside differences that may split apart families and friendships in your life, and learn to follow the Boy Scout Motto: "Be prepared."  (Also, read my post “Give Forgiveness.”)