I Think They’re Still There

I feel such an urge to go back to that beach I visited last month. I keep thinking that this time the women will be wearing long full skirts that sweep the boardwalk and hats that make the Duchess of Cambridge’s lids look like so many Girl Scout beanies.

I spoke yesterday about the doomed couple who were my grandparents: they courted on Revere Beach and also just up the way in Winthrop.

I have pictures of them in these places. And the descriptions of the outings in their diaries, And the excited letters that passed back and forth as they planned these outings and the outings sure took some planning: both of them hailed from western Massachusetts where they met, but then he, Michael, came to Boston to become a lawyer while she, Carrie, stayed behind to take a job teaching in one of those famous one-room school houses of the era. (You should see the pictures of that raggedy band of thin-faced children, the millworkers’ offspring, first generation Irish-Americans just as Carrie and Michael were first generation Irish-Americans.)

Sometimes I feel as if I could build the whole village of Hinsdale, where Carrie grew up; as if I could draw pictures of her living room and then furnish it.

I can do this and I know this because of the writing they did. They left a record. People just did that back then. What a loss if we moderns, we citizens of the last 30 years, turn out to leave nothing behind but a screen that glows for a while and then goes dark as all screens must.

In comparison paper is such a stable medium. Study these images of a day by the water’s edge 100 years ago. Dont’ you suppose the people pictured are still there… somewhere? I will go again soon and look some more.

This is What You Shall Do

“This is what you shall do,” wrote Walt Whitman in the preface to the second edition of Leaves of Grass,the collection of verse that shook the literary establishment clear down to its knickers.

I keep the whole passage in a frame on my desk and have read it so many times that it has entered me by now. I hear his voice in so many places I visit.

I certainly heard it at sunset the other day when I drove to the stretch of city shoreline known as Revere Beach.

Let me set down the whole of what Whitman says and you will maybe see why he sang to me here. He tells us,

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals; despise riches; give alms to everyone that asks; stand up for the stupid and the crazy; argue not concerning God; have patience and indulgence toward the people; go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and the Mothers of families; dismiss whatever insults your own soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency, not  only in words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the  lashes of your eyes and in every last joint and motion of your body…

Whenever I need to feel better I reread this and then I go out to where the people are. ‘Stand up for the stupid and the crazy,’ he says and I know that one day I will very likely be what the world calls stupid. As for crazy, my sister thinks I’m that already .

It’s fine if I am. It doesn’t matter. I went to this beach and was smiled at by every single person I gave a smile to.

We were all just there together. We walked or sat or stood, right where we should be: where God first put us and where He can find us again, here in His light, in His glorious late day-light.