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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I think I have serious latent Catholic guilt issues.”  –Grimes (Brainyquote)

A grey rainy late winter day in Chicago.  My dad and my sister are in the car (our ’37 Plymouth) waiting to pick me up from school.  I was in 2nd grade at St. Jarlath’s, near our apartment on Van Buren and Ashland (long gone now, concretized by the Congress Street-Eisenhower Expressway). My dad worked nights but came to get us home for lunch in bad weather.  What was the delay?  I’m inside the classroom, sitting under the teacher’s desk.  What was happening then in 1949?

Born in April 1941, I have few memories before 1944, though some child development specialists have told they could unlock the drawers holding those before-memories.  How many “major” memories do we get to keep?  Memories are the captured ones, say, the ones not ever forgotten, those “memorable” thoughts and stories that unfolded becoming our lives.  Choosing which ones to share, or to organize those recalled from time to time can be a daunting task, albeit a rewarding one (cathartic one?).  I am certain there were, in my first three or four years, those first baths, and birthdays–complete with cake and frosting in hair, or on the high chairs, and thrown about the room.  Perhaps early birthdays with games and balloons and smashed cake really do form the basis for celebrations of all kinds that come at later dates.

But the memories of our first three or four years?  I delight in all that is forgotten: the pain of early ear infections, of being one gigantic chicken pox when all the pox-dots are connected.  Scarlet fever, insect bites and stings, broken favorite toys, cough medicines, penicillin injections, Vicks-covered wrapped-chests, and more awful things that should remain in those memory drawers, not needing to be unhoused.  For what real purpose?

We hardly also remember all the good times, for they were not so traumatizing on the psyche.  Yet I would not mind the good memories that could be released: memories of first beach day (not a sun burn, of course, but the eternal sand castle building or perfect water temperature), train trips or miniature-train rides in parks or at carnivals, parties and Christmases and Easter egg hunts, and A&W root beer floats, and .  .  .  Release might involve the “good” with the “bad.”  (Personally, Dr. Jung Freud, I like it the way it is–as if I have slept through most of those first three or four years.)

Therefore, my life story begins in 1944: I was three.  That is a good start for my history.  My baby pictures tell enough of that, especially those with my favorite cousin Marilyn on one side and my sister, Janice, on the other side of me–all with our little knees showing.  Three joined at the hip, as it were, on Grandpa Schuma’s front porch.  THAT is the memory, the picture I want to keep alive forever as representative of my early-early life, the “good life.”

jimmy on GRANDMA'S PORCHTHE THREE OF US ON THE PORCH AT 5644 SOUTH SEELEY 1945

It is my school life, though, that has always been a nine-month chunk of my life cycle.  So much of my time, my daily life, was spent in school or around school or going to/coming from.  The summers, then, were sacrosanct with a life of their own.  That is why we probably use the expression so often “School Life,” from pre-K, or even nursery school, to whatever graduation point or final degree.

Overall, I grade my “school life” in the range of “good” to “above average”: C to B+, from first grade through my advanced degree programs.  In “My Life Story: Early Life in School: 1947-1949,” there exist a few milestones, like Baltimore Catechism (and hating–forever–memorization); First Holy Communion (and that dark blue wool suit seen in pictures);

jimmy's First Communion May 9, 1948

JIMMY’S O’NEIL’S FIRST COMMUNION MAY 9, 1948

a Confessional, for the first time.  The Milk Break: I loved milk breaks–any grade.  (And I wish I had gone to kindergarten to have had a blankie and a nap.  My vivid memories center upon “chocolate”: for morning milk [in glass bottles in metal cases, ordered a week ahead].)  Nuns-as-Teachers (I cannot remember their names or their faces, but I do have a picture of 1st and 2nd grade blackness.)  And, finally, the memory that I cannot ever eradicate: Being Late:  A rainy day when my dad was able to pick us up for lunch.  I was late.

Let me back up now.  Earlier that morning, I got myself into trouble.  I was talking to the kid across the aisle from me, no doubt my friend Peter Mendoza.  Now what do 2nd graders have to talk about in 2nd grade in mid-morning after Milk Break?  What is so important that is worth violating the Silence Rule?  (We had no Smart phones to keep us occupied.)

I cannot recall nor remember.  “I have no recollection of the event or the conversation,” politicians say.

Whatever it was certainly drew the attention of Sister Mary of the Rosary Beads, our nun-teacher.  My nun-teacher called a name-not-mine.  I thought I heard her call my name, “Jimmy O’Neil come to the front of the room.”  (Caught!  I was probably talking.)  Guiltily I stood up and accepted the punishment.  So I walked to the Time-Out spot near the blackboard.  A classmate was already there.  “Did she call your name?”  Soon I began talking to one rightfully punished standing by the blackboard.  “Jimmy O’Neil.”  This time I was called out for talking by the One-in-Black-Who-Saw-and-Heard-Everything, and told to go sit under her desk–a Final Punishing Place!  My memory of pulling away the teacher chair and crawling under the drawer and skootching next to the “modesty panel” still hurts.  And how was I going to explain my situation to my dad if I did not come out for lunch on time?  Fear of the Lord.  Guilt.  Crime and Punishment.

I was wearing a flannel plaid shirt.  Brown and white.  I happened to be wearing one of my collectibles: a metal pin-back pin found in cereal boxes, pins of railroads.

Vintage-1980s-Prr-Pennsylvania-Railroad-Train-Logo-Pinback

PENNSYLVANIA RR PIN-BACK PIN

I took off my Pennsylvania RR pin and played with it while listening to nun and students.  I began to formulate my excuse: The Lie.  I would lie and say I hurt myself and had to stay after for help.  I managed, at eight years old, in 1949, to plot a lie-story that would save me from home punishment for the double-punishment of the 2nd grade classroom.  I would show my injury on my hand.  I had to create an injury story.

I picked at the wrist of my left hand with the pinpoint of the Pennsy RR button.  I picked and picked until I began to bleed and open a wound.  I felt no pain.  No guilt either.  Time passed quickly.  The class continued its lessons without me as I picked and poked and bled.  Then the bell.  I heard all leave the room; the door shut.  All left except Jimmy O’Neil, forgotten under the desk.  Everyone forgot me.  I crawled out, with my bloody sore already scabbing over.  It was much smaller than a dime.  I went to the cloakroom for my coat.

Dad and my sister were waiting in the car, in the rain.  As I ran to the car, I let my courage come unstuck from somewhere.  “I’m sorry I’m late.  I was kept after for talking.”  (No mention of being forgotten by everyone, including my teacher.)  No more was said.  Moreover, no one asked about the sore on my hand; I didn’t tell any more than was required.

That’s it.  My brain, learning, and memory cells increased proportionately after 1949.  I know I learned the basics of how to count, to use the alphabet, and how to tie my shoes–even at school.  And, I’ve forgotten so much–trivia, irrelevancies, factoids.

Yet I cannot ever eradicate this one 2nd grade anecdote.  I want to keep it, not tug it around to depress me, but not throw it away either.  It’s a story by a little boy about a little boy.  Maybe it has some Catholic guilt within, maybe some fear of disappointing a dad (or worry about some punishment), or maybe it has a small step in my growing up.  For sure, though, I made certain I never ever had to sit under a teacher’s desk again!

. . .

“Every person’s autobiography is both unique and usual, the story of an individual life and of all mankind.  We are shaped by an inescapable human condition which dictates certain events and themes that will figure prominently in every life story.”  –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey (1989)

©  James F. O’Neil  2018

 

 

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“Once upon a time…” Sam Keen told and repeated the story of the death of his father.  Keen’s world was shattered, he writes, leading to his finding “a new myth by which to live.”  He realized that he “had a repertoire of stories within my autobiography that gave me satisfying personal answers about the meaning of my life.”

“Everyone has a fascinating story to tell, an autobiographical myth.  And when we tell our stories to one another, we, at one and the same time, find the meaning of our lives and are healed from our isolation and loneliness.”

“We don’t know who we are until we hear ourselves speaking the drama of our lives to someone we trust to listen with an open mind and heart.”

[“In a strict sense myth refers to ‘an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites, and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community, or culture.’”]

“The organizing myth of any culture functions in ways that may be either creative or destructive, healthful or pathological.  By providing a world picture and a set of stories that explain why things are as they are, it creates consensus, sanctifies the social order, and gives the individual an authorized map of the path of life.  A myth creates the plotline that organizes the diverse experiences of a person or community into a single story.”

“Every family, like a miniculture, also has an elaborate system of stories and rituals that differentiate it from other families.  …  And within the family each member’s place is defined by a series of stories.”

“Each person is a repository of stories.  …  We gain the full dignity and power of our persons only when we create a narrative account of our lives, dramatize our existence, and forge a coherent personal myth that combines elements of our cultural myth and family myth with unique stories that come from our experience.”

[Santayana: “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.”]

“To remain vibrant throughout a lifetime we must always be inventing ourselves, weaving new themes into our life-narratives, remembering our past, re-visioning our future, reauthorizing the myth by which we live.”

TO BE A PERSON IS TO HAVE A STORY TO TELL.  WE BECOME GROUNDED IN THE PRESENT WHEN WE COLOR IN THE OUTLINES OF THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.”  –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey (1973; 1989)

So, “Tell me a story, pleeeeze…”

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Omne agens agit propter finem.    Every agent acts on account of an end.

To begin, let us focus on statements regarding human action from Thomas Aquinas, the Summa Contra Gentiles [I.II:1:6]: That is to say, every subject acts toward an end that is a good for him.

The act of love is the first of all acts and gives rise to all others.

Thomas asks whether love is the cause of all that the lover does.  His reply is brief yet incisive: “I reply that every agent acts for an end.  The end, however, is the good which is loved and desired by each thing.  Hence it is clear that every agent, whatever it may be, carries out every action from some love.”

The primacy of the person in Aquinas’ “moral universe” is evident.  The first affective motion is love (amor).  The priority of love holds not only for the passions, but also for the rational appetite or will.  Thus love is the most basic motion of the will and the principle of all moral action.  The absolutely first appetitive motion in rational beings is the love of persons.  It is this love that gives rise to all moral action, whether good or evil, since in all action the agent aims at the perfection of some person, either himself or another.  It is no surprise then to find Thomas explicitly stating this position: “The principal ends of human acts are God, self, and others, since we do whatever we do for the sake of one of these.”

BUT: “A subject isolated from sensory stimulus and social interchange begins to hallucinate rapidly and to lose all sense of reality.  Sadists who subject prisoners to solitary confinement understand intuitively that the cruelest punishment is to remove a man [or woman] from the community and thereby deprive him [or her] of his [or her] humanity.  Confusion results when community is lost.

HEALTH DEPENDS UPON THE CONVICTION THAT OUR ACTIONS COUNT.  I remain potent only so long as I get feedback which demonstrates that the force of my action is felt…I [obtain] the knowledge of the resonance of my actions, as well as the joy of knowing that my gifts are received and appreciated.

[I become] a responsible agent, with a sense that the future is open, [and] I understand myself to be essentially in a social context, and therefore my fundamental desires always involve other persons.”  –Sam Keen, To a Dancing God [1970]

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, who scored a top ten hit with the song.  Originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmastime, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has since gone on to become a Christmas standard.  It has a beautiful message of being at home with family during the most wonderful time of the year.  The song has been recorded by Perry Como (1946), Frank Sinatra (1957), Josh Groban (2001), Kelly Clarkson (2011), Pentatonix (2016), and by many other artists.

* * *

“Home Is Where the Heart Is.”

“A House Is Not a Home.”

“Home, Home on the Range”

“A Man’s Home Is His Castle.”

“Home Is Where Your Story Begins.”

“There’s No Place Like Home.”

You Can’t Go Home Again

“Where is your home?”  More than once, I have had to list “former addresses.”  Most of the time for a job application: “for the past ten years.”  Or once when I applied to the Governor a few years ago for a position on a local board: “all previous addresses.”  “Where do you live?”  Most of us have had to do this applying for credit, for some license, or for a gun purchase.  Certainly, those of us who have gone past second grade are so familiar with “Name-Address-Phone Number.”  And we learn quickly, so we’re not lost, or for identification purposes: “Do you know your address?”  Sometimes a post office box–P.O. Box 357–or rural route, R.R. #6, is the only way correspondence can be addressed to a person.  Even some addresses are the name of the place where a person lives:

christmas-biltmore-candlelightBiltmore Mansion at Christmas  Asheville, North Carolina

Recently, my wife and I had an interesting breakfast conversation that began with our considering “downsizing” again, disposing of more of our “stuff.”  We laughed that our present home was 860 sq. ft. downsized from our 1800 sq. ft. home we left six years ago.  Our talking led to a short list of some homes we’ve had in our married life: size and characteristics.  For the next few days, we thought up some questions about our residences.  By later in the week, we had compiled a list of something about each.  We realized each possessed a unique quality.  A house has its physical dimensions, furniture, character and style, and “story” to be told, if but one.  We had more than enough for talking about.

So where to begin?  How to begin?  We found ourselves conversing about kids, and jobs and illnesses, and once or twice humming “Our house is a very, very fine house with two cats in the yard…”  (Even though we once had four cats that never went out.  So many memories of times.)  One question we settled on first, though, was “How did we get there?”  Nothing to do with a U-Haul or moving van.  Was it climate-related?  Job-related?  Did it have to do with our health? The size of the family?  (Our one-bedroom wedding apartment, then into a new apartment a year later, “with a room for the new baby” in our garden apartment in Palatine, Illinois.)

Or was it a move to some place just because we “liked” something bigger, better, newer?  (Our move from a 7th-floor condominium apartment, with its garbage chute and elevators and condo restrictions, but which overlooked the beautiful Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida, to a house with a yard and trees and lawn to cut.

moorings-point-fort-myers-1987

The Moorings Point  North Fort Myers, Florida

We tired of high-rise condo living after three years.)  We concluded our exercise with an “Oh,-the-places-you’ll-go” moment

oh-the-places-youll-go novelreaction.com

with an inventory of questions, including a “best overall,” a “worst,” a “best financial decision” to “lousy deal.”  We had answers, and a major event for each separate place, to include “Why did we leave?”  Then came more inquiring, for example, what changes made a place more comfortable or perfectly matched to our lifestyle (the one house we had built)?

mcmahon-construction-1981

     McMahon Avenue Home Construction  Port Charlotte, Florida

In our fifty-plus years together, we have undertaken two MAJOR migratory events, moving from Chicago to Minnesota (in 1966, for 14 years), and moving from The Land of 10,000 Lakes to the Sunshine State of Florida (in 1980).  In any event, all our house-home-stories begin with our apartment hunting in summer 1963, before our October wedding.  And so it goes from there.

A favorite and important story-within-a-story we relate often is about my driving with a teacher-colleague to his job interview in Minnesota.  He needed a reliable vehicle: our 1964 VW was chosen for the February weekend trip, the back of the car loaded with bags of sand and salt and shovels.  We were prepared for weather events or highway problems.  (There were neither.)

While Lennie was being interviewed on that cold Saturday morning, I was passing time in the Dean’s waiting room, paging through magazines.  A young man entered, then inquired what I was doing.  He heard, then told me to spend some time with him.  He was a departmental chairperson.  I ended up in conversation, just chatting; he presented a program description–and offered me a job.

My friend and I did pros-and-cons for the 300-mile trip home.  I took the job; we moved in July 1966.  He declined his offer; he could not afford the move with his family.  And that was the beginning of that story.

Some persons never move, never leave.  Ever.  (Some of my former students still live in their original bedrooms in their first and only house.)  Others have made annual moves, for whatever reasons.  (“Join the Navy.  See the world!” came out of World War II–and stayed as a popular slogan, and reality.)

join-the-navyHowever, Americans, says the Census Bureau, are staying in the same house longer between moves: from 5 years, on average, in the 1950s and 1960s, to about 8.6 years in 2013.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American moves 12 times during his or her lifetime.  Since our wedding-apartment in 1963, we have had eighteen (18) addresses and moves.  Surely, we deliberated many times over with questions like those asked during our recent activity.  For each dwelling, we know why we chose it instead of another. 

History of the home (structure moved into town from a farm, original Homestead building site).  How we lived in it. 

sanborn-farm-home-1976

SANBORN FARM HOME   SANBORN, MINNESOTA

How we loved it.  How we made a family.  How the family grew, then decreased (graduations and marriages).  How we responded to forces around the home (weather, landscape).  How the house-home became part of us. 

This analytical time for houses, homes, and addresses has been fulfilling–even despite some hurtful memoriesofatime past or pain that might have arisen.  Overall, though, looking back at our downsizing exercise, we find we are now in a good place and time to look back at ourselves and our lives together–and how “nomadic” we thought we were.  However, “if we had it to do all over again . . .”

* * *

“We can’t separate who we are from where we are.  People are rooted in time and place, so our psychic space is generously seasoned with memories of physical territories.  …  The geography of our past is part of memory.  …  Every human emotion is seeded in the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of specific environments.”  — Sam Keen, Your Mythic Journey: Finding Meaning in Your Life through Writing and Storytelling (1973, 1989).

 * * *

“Country roads, take me home…” (John Denver); and then “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

melby-house-mabel-minn-1975

THE MELBY HOUSE OUR FAVORITE-IST OF THEM ALL  MABEL, MINNESOTA

 

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…  All that I know now is partial and incomplete…  Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love…–Paul 1 Cor. 13.

“Where no hope is left, is left no fear.”  –John Milton, Paradise Regained, 3:206.

“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of Man.”  –Friedrich Nietzsche

“It is hope that maintains most of mankind.”  –Sophocles

“There can be no hope without fear, and no fear without hope.”  –Spinoza

“Hope is the only God common to all men; those who have nothing more, possess hope still.”  –Thales

from Sam Keen, Apology for Wonder (1969): “There is no hope that we can eradicate evil and tragedy–only that we can find ways of keeping the spirit alive.”

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end…  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire….”— Prayer by Thomas Merton

“…mental illness results directly from hopelessness and lack of a sense of the possible.  Wishing, willing, and hoping are essential to sanity.”  –Sam Keen

“Agnosticism and hope are not incompatible.”  — Sam Keen

“The only hope you have is to hope for the best, but don’t you get your hopes up nor hope against hope.”

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“We become human only on leaving Eden, mature only in realizing that childhood is over.  We come home to the fullness of our humanity only in owning and taking responsibility for present awareness as well as for the full measure of our memories and dreams.  Graceful existence integrates present, past, and future.”  –Sam Keen, To a Dancing God [1970]

Sam Keen (born 1931) is an American author, professor, and philosopher best known for his exploration of questions regarding love, life, religion, and being a man in contemporary society.  He also co-produced Faces of the Enemy, an award-winning PBS documentary; was the subject of a Bill Moyers’ television special in the early 1990s; and for 20 years served as a contributing editor at Psychology Today magazine.  [He completed his undergraduate studies at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and later completed graduate degrees at Harvard University and Princeton University.–Wikipedia]

“The story is the basic tool for the formation of identity.

“A large part of our self-concept consists of the narrative by means of which we remember and relate our past experiences.

“Human life is rendered ultimately meaningful by being incorporated into a story.

“Telling stories is functionally equivalent to belief in God.  **

“Once the individual recovers his or her history, she or he finds it is the story of every man.

“The more I know of myself, the more I recognize that nothing human is foreign to me.  In the depth of each person’s biography lies the story of all man.”

Actually, telling our story strengthens our ego:  “The very process leads the teller to become aware that he or she is a person with a unique history of triumph and tragedy, with as yet unfulfilled hopes and projects.” 

**“In exploring the significance of the metaphor of the story, I will suggest that telling stories is functionally equivalent to belief in God, and, therefore, ‘the death of God’ is best understood as modern man’s inability to believe that human life is rendered ultimately meaningful by being incorporated into a story.”  —To a Dancing God

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