“[Katherine Anne Porter] said that she had always wanted to go to Lourdes, perhaps she would get there someday and made a novena that she would finish her novel [Ship of Fools]. She’s been on it 27 years.”
~ Flannery O’Connor letter to “A” April 4, 1958 from Letters of Flannery O’Connor: The Habit of Being, selected and edited by Sally Fitzgerald
If I were a traveler or had more than one home, I would note my geographic location at the top of my letters. But I am not a traveler. Perhaps I should note my location within my house, in which case I would start this letter thus:
27 August 2014
The Blue Room
I watched a terrific storm come through with a night-like darkening of sky and rain drops big as seagull droppings. The storm swooped and whooped and behaved altogether as badly as a poorly disciplined child in a department store, the ones you want to pick up and carry outdoors and then lock the door behind you. Whoop!! Bang! Rumble! And then—la! The sky is new-washed blue, the clouds puffy white, the gray lingering only a trace on the eastern horizon.
Today I met my Old Pal Bill for lunch. Since his retirement, he drives up from Denver rather than asking me to drive to him, for which I’m grateful. On my drive to the restaurant, I yelled an obscenity from the void inside my car to the man driving the car behind me, his front bumper nearly touching my rear bumper. The trouble with making a commitment to have a kinder nature is that my Driving Bitch slips out before I can catch her, and I have to forcibly restrain her hand, which seems always so ready to flip someone off. What is that, I wonder? Who is that is a much better question. Who is that angry woman inside me, and then I remember that my anger usually masks fear—I am afraid of that car riding so close to mine—but unfortunately there are no good hand signals for fear. When he took the next exit (not using his blinker), I waved over him in a benign matter, much like the Pope blessing the millions, and I said aloud, “May you reach your destination without harming yourself or anyone else.” And I meant it. So goes my daily exercise in kindness.
Later in the day I noticed that I often receive in one day both happy news and sad news, and today held both. The sad news caused me to feel some shame for wanting to flip-off a stranger (I am not known to flip-off friends except when I am trying to be funny). I am reminded that we don’t know what is going on in someone else’s life, what challenges they face, what difficulty they manage. It does no one any harm to send out love and to feel hope, whether we know the person or not. When my ex-son-in-law was sick a couple of years ago and not expected to survive, the whole family drew together in love and prayer, and we all made requests to everyone we knew to pray for this young man. He survived, and the doctors had no idea why or how. We did. Among us we had called in about 500 Catholic nuns, two Pentecostal churches, some Presbyterians, a few Episcopalians, a lapsed Methodist, and a mess of Shamanic drummers. For all I know, Pagans danced for him by moonlight.
I don’t care much for organized religion, but I do believe in the power of whatever it is each of us calls prayer. Goodness. Love. Hope. And especially gratitude. And that is all I have to say about that.
I am tired and my body aches after a chiropractor treatment followed by a short jaunt through the grocery store to restock the freezer with more ice cream. A person can do without a lot of things, but this person cannot do without ice cream. Or lunch with old friends, good books, deep sleep, or sometimes a mindless TV show to watch while I do needlepoint. I also cannot do without letters between friends. I think of you always with love.
“I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Micky Spillane look like Dostoevsky.”
~ Flannery O’Connor letter to Maryat Lee, May 31, 1960