L, THE HERO OF MY DAY
We all always agreed that he was an intellectual without a doubt. How he’d made it to working among riff-raff like us has always been a mystery.
Recently, the woman whose position I have but taken over at a sister university wrote a scathing exit email detailing many of the failures of the system and the never-to-be-recommended prospect of teaching at this university (yes, here I sit) or any university in Mexico. Well, wouldn’t argue any of that with a serious academic. Some of my new colleagues were a little hurt when she identified them as ex-cons, conspiracy theorists, UFO chasers, tax dodgers etc. She even questioned their hygiene.
I hope she’s doing swell downdogging on her sacred mountain, holier than thou. Stretch that sacrum before upward facing dog, nose high up in the air where it can usually be found. There are tales…
She surely talked the talk.
But this ain’t really about her.
Maybe it was that his name came up this past weekend when three former colleagues and three great friends from that previous university came down to visit us on the coast. He was mentioned merely in passing as I asked one of those colleagues if the university had called this former professor begging that he return to the university in the wake of numerous departures in just the past year. The three who visited, my wife and me, he – the one in question, along with two others.
‘Not to my knowledge,’ my good friend admitted along with not having run into or having reached out to L the subject of the last fragments of dreamland before the alarm sounded at six-thirty this morning.
I was smoking on the rooftop of an apartment where I was evidently living. It was morning, but the sky was cloudy with impending storm and dark as night. I wondered why I was drinking coffee. I didn’t recall having to work that day and thought, given the weather and gloom, back to bed was not a bad idea in the least.
Back down in the building, in the corridor of my supposed apartment building, L approached wearing all white, loose fitting white clothing (traditional oaxaqueña, guayabera and baggy, cool as in temperature wise pants). Around his neck was a thick gold chain with a fist and a half-sized emblem of something. It could have been a crucifix. It could have been Madonna and Christ Child. The brilliance was blinding and failed to allow a detailed examination.
Hey how’s it going? We exchanged pleasantries and inquiries about work. I remembered my current post, and that indeed, I did have to work and wondered just how in the hell I was going to get there (here) but took the time to ask if he’d been working on any translations. He had and was making a good living based solely on that endeavor. Good for you. We made plans for coffee at some point. As we parted and I continued down the hall, I looked out the window to see the now risen sun dispersing the storm and bringing the light and the day.
No plans for mass at this point though my interest was sparked in ecclesiastical matters.
So I just now checked the catalog of the liturgical press L translates for. The publisher was created by the university that happens to be where my very working-class father was sent first for four years of prep school followed by four years of university before attending another university for a master’s in art. My grandparents had invested in the education of their first-born to be a priest or intellectual or artist. History reveals he went about the last two on the list and not the first. He is the only one among four children to get a university education.
But this is about L, not my father.
I found the catalog. L had mentioned the projects to me, but I had forgotten many details. One of the two listed is a Latin to English translation of thirty-one homilies on Isaiah 13-16 written by the 12th century English Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx. The major themes are spiritual friendship in Christ and progress of the individual soul. The other work is a Latin to English translation of twenty-eight sermons dealing with predestination, the problem of evil, and Christ’s two natures written by the also 12th century English and Cistercian monk, Isaac of Stella.
Interesting that both Isaac of Stella and Aelred of Rievaulx were English monks and then abbots born within ten years of each other. Whether they knew each other or not isn’t clear, I’d like to inquire with L on those details. Isaac of Stella left England for France where he studied and became abbot of the monastery of Stella outside Poitiers. Aelred of Rievaulx became the abbot of Rievaulx (the names say it all) in Yorkshire.
The Isaac of Stella translation boasted an introduction written by a monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani famous for being the home of Thomas Merton for some twenty-seven years. L, before moving to Mexico, taking a position at that previous university, and getting married, was a monk for ten years in Berryville, Virginia about an eight-hour drive from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Bardstown, Kentucky.
I had also conjectured in the past that Thomas Merton might have been a major influence on L. L, aside from being a polyglot- he fluently speaks, reads, writes, and does or could translate, to and from and among, oh, English, Latin (yes, can speak fluently and conversationally), Greek, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. He admits having put aside studying Sanskrit for a time but hasn’t written it off.
I don’t think L was one of those YMCA monks there for the towel snapping.
But my brother and former colleague (of L’s as well) and again colleague in literary tomfoolery and I agree or suppose or conjecture that L’s monastic life was the result of his drinking, smoking, and sordid university years. His hangover lasted for ten years in which he shut himself in a cell and got a helluva lot of work done.
I’ll send L a message soon to see how he’s doing and if we might meet up for that coffee when I roll through town next July.
Dream interpretation (as I have only but ceased to sweat from the walk up): The emblem or medallion he wore around his neck- the blazing (and holy) sun Absolute. The light apparel- what I should be wearing instead of these black jeans (the first and last day). This light cotton shirt can stay, but kick these tennies off and find some huaraches. Open-toed huaraches or chanclas are acceptable by university standards as they are regarded as traditional. Havaianas or any lesser flip-flop are not.
WHO IS CAPTAIN B?
Captain B. Seafarer. Lover of shore leave. Collector of heads. Disseminator of tales. Twitter: @NPeligeiro