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I’ve lived in Marshfield for a little over five years. The town is a small beach community that rambles up and down the coast for about seven or eight miles, it’s two lane roads winding between forests, marshes, and cranberry bogs, which means there is no particular design or logic to the way the streets are laid out — and there are very few street signs, as is the custom in New England. From time to time, I turn down a street I don’t know just to see where it takes me and then drive around until I come to something familiar.

Since I don’t have any burning issues to speak about today, I thought would take the same kind of journey in Blogland, starting at Skewed View and using her blog roll as a signpost to see what sort of new places I could find. Here’s who I found:

Soul & Culture — “pondering my role in a bigger story” is the caption for this blog written from Denver. I liked the cow.

Texas Trifles — written by Cowtown Pattie, who is doing great stuff. Scroll down to her post from August 6 on the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Waiter Rant — Since I spend my days in a restaurant kitchen, I can relate to this guy.

Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds — is an incisive and pointed blog written by a “witty and often abused country club employee” in Florida.

Crummy Church Signs — my favorite find of the day, is a collection of just what it says. The website has all of the signs archived by category.

Enjoy the journey.



cleaning out


Today our garage is going to lose some weight.

On what is turning out to be a perfect New England summer day, Ginger and I are going to pull everything out of our garage (which is actually more of a storage shed) and take most of it to the dump. For the five years we have lived here, the garage has been the repository of everything from boxes that haven’t been opened since we left Charlestown to stuff we were going to get to later to stuff we put out there to get out of sight.

Moving as much as I did growing up, I never had much of a chance to accumulate things. We moved often and traveled light. In my adult years, I have realized, I never learned much about throwing things away. I’m a pack rat, pure and simple. Some stuff I hang on to because I think I might be able to use it; most stuff I just hang on to. Something in me would rather put it in the garage, or in a closet or a drawer, than put it out with the trash, take it to Goodwill, sell it at a yard sale and let it live in someone else’s garage. I feel like Steve Martin in The Jerk, walking through the house saying, “The ashtray, the paddleball, and the remote control – that’s all I need . . .”

I think there is something in all of us that resists getting rid of stuff. I worked at the Red Lion Inn last night. The evening was slow, as are most Mondays in the restaurant business, and I took it upon myself to clean out the walk-in refrigerator. We do a pretty good job of making sure what is in there is what is we need and is fresh, but I did find a couple of bain maries with remnants of soup de jours from jours gone by, or pans of things that had, for one reason or another, gotten pushed to the back of the shelf and forgotten. In the kitchen, as in the garage or in life, we have to stop from time to time and deal with what’s left before we continue with what’s new. I’m not good at cleaning out until I need the space for something else or what’s there becomes a nuisance. Part of my resistance to getting rid of things is an irrational fear of throwing away something important. I say irrational because if I haven’t needed what is in those boxes for five years, how could it be that important? Why is it so hard to let go? Why am I so attached to trash?

The way I want to answer those questions is the other reason we are cleaning out today: it’s a jumpstart for a new beginning. Ginger goes back to work in about two weeks, fall means a new church year and – even without kids of our own – a new school year, which changes the sense of time for everyone. We want to start with a cleaner slate (and garage) than we have right now because we want the year ahead to be different for us in how we handle our things or money and our time. Once again, creating open space reaps benefits.

As the space clears, the other intriguing aspect of cleaning out is what I learn about myself as I look at what I have collected. I’m embarking on an archaeological dig, in a way, sifting back through the layers of my life as told by what has become superfluous, stacked in reverse chronology. As we clean, we will find both what we no longer need and what we have forgotten, both calling us to remember where we have been and to evaluate once again who we are now and who we are becoming.

When we walked among the ruins of ancient cities and civilizations in Greece and Turkey, everything we saw had been unearthed, city built on top of city. The dust and debits that had collected over time buried turned one civilization into the foundation of the next. When they dug the subway system in Athens, they found parts of the old city underground, even though people had lived there continually. In her wonderful book, For the Time Being, Annie Dillard writes:

New York City’s street level rises every century. The rate at which dust buries us varies. The Mexico City in which Cortes walked is now thirty feet underground. It would be farther underground except that Mexico City itself has started sinking, Digging a subway line, workers found a temple. Debris lifts land an average of 4.7 feet per century. King Herod the Great rebuilt the Second Temple in Jerusalem two thousand years ago: the famous Western Wall is a top layer of old retaining wall near the peak of Mount Moriah. From the present bottom of the Western Wall to bedrock is sixty feet.

Quick: Why aren’t you dusting? On every continent, we sweep floors and wipe tabletops not only to shine the place, but to forestall burial. (123)

I said yesterday that both the present and the future call us to respond with a mixture of wonder, creativity, tenacity, and compassion that can’t be carried in a fist. They also cannot be carried in arms already filled with things.

Here’s hoping I can let go of the ashtray, the paddleball, and the remote control.



the end of the world


I woke this morning, as did we all, to news of more bombings in Lebanon, more rockets being fired into Israel, more uranium enrichment in Iran, more floods in India and Ethiopia, a volcano about to erupt in the Philippines, and a breakdown in oil production in Alaska. All we need now is news that Celine Dion is releasing a new CD and I will know it’s the end of the world.

My friend Jay called yesterday afternoon to read me parts of a “Rapture web site” that has created a “Rapture Index” much like the stock market indexes to measure how immanent the rapture is (my choice not to provide the link – I don’t want to encourage them). They give points for everything from debt-trade ratios to natural disasters to foreign governments to the Anti-Christ (there’s Celine Dion again), creating a number that’s supposed to show how close we are to Jesus’ return to rescue the faithful and leave everyone else behind to read Tim LaHaye novels.

I had email from another friend who pointed me to Bill Moyer’s new PBS series Faith & Reason, specifically his conversation with Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher and writer from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. In their conversation, Chödrön made a distinction between pain and suffering:

BILL MOYERS: The Buddha talked about the truth of suffering


BILL MOYERS: What do you think he meant by suffering? And what do you Buddhists mean by suffering?

PEMA CHÖDRÖN: Suffering?


PEMA CHÖDRÖN: Well, that’s a complex question, but it doesn’t mean that we could be free of that, if fire burns you, it won’t hurt. If you get cut, it won’t hurt. It also doesn’t mean that if someone you love very dear, deeply, dies you won’t feel sadness. And it doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen to you anymore, you know? It doesn’t mean that you won’t have your personal tragedies and catastrophes and crisis. And it also certainly doesn’t mean that you could avoid planes flying into the towers, you know? Do you know what I’m saying?

BILL MOYERS: I do know about that because—

PEMA CHÖDRÖN: So it’s all about that the end of suffering has to do with how you relate with pain. Let’s distinguish just for semantics, the difference between, let’s call pain the unavoidable and let’s call suffering what could what could lessen and dissolve in our lives. So, if there’s sort of a basic phrase you could say that it isn’t the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer, it’s how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer.

My friend Kaye wrote in response: “Loss hurts. Suffering is different. Refusing to approve of suffering, refusing to be resigned to suffering is something we see too seldom. It’s something that requires us to be our best selves. We all know how hard that is.”

Growing up Baptist means I got my share of Rapture stuff. It never really made sense to me because it seemed more about escape from pain than it did hope in the midst of suffering. What I heard was, “We’re all going to get out of here before it gets really bad because Jesus loves us; everyone else is screwed.” Funny – the Christians I knew growing up in Africa, who lived most all of their lives in poverty and pain never talked that way. The Rapture makes sense mostly in American suburbs, where we live in fear of losing our SUVs. If Jesus is as angry as the Rapture Rowdies say he is, I would expect the suburbs to be the first targets.

If God is Love and Jesus is the best human picture of that love, why would God unfold the whole story of Creation to bring it to a surprise ending of vengeance? If the Christian Church is the Body of Christ – the continuing incarnation of God’s love – why would Jesus come to pull us all out of here so we could all sit back and watch everyone else writhe in pain and despair? If there is a wideness in God’s mercy, a peace that passes all human understanding, and a love that excels all others, why are we looking to the future as if the ending were going to be directed by Wes Craven or John Woo? When we see how well we have solved problems in our world by responding to violence with violence, can’t we assume God is smarter and more creative than we are?

I wonder if Garrison Keillor was thinking on some of these things when he included Stanley Kunitz’ poem on The Writers’ Almanac today:

Halley’s Comet

Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the stormtracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there’d be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground’s edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
“Repent, ye sinners!” he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I’d share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family’s asleep
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.

Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street—
that’s where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I’m the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.

Both the present and the future call us to respond with a mixture of wonder, creativity, tenacity, and compassion that can’t be carried in a fist. Maybe it is the end of the world. Maybe not. Before the credits roll, let us pray for strength to be our best selves rather than looking to the sky for an escape hatch.



caught by surprise


The heat finally broke at our house this afternoon.

About three-thirty, the wind started coming in off the water, the blinds on the east side of the house began to sway slightly letting in the cool air, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. According to the forecasters, the week ahead won’t see too much over eighty degrees. It has taken the upstairs longer to cool off than downstairs, so I’m just now getting to the computer. As I sat down, I heard the pups bark and then smelled skunk in the air.

About ten-thirty every night, our two little dogs wake from their places on the couch and make the loop from the through the kitchen, living room, and dining room prancing with their heads in the air like the Royal Lipizzaner Schnauzers. Then they tear out through the puppy door into the backyard, barking like crazy. After a few minutes, they come back in, hop back up on the couch, and go back to sleep. Their job for the evening is done. Depending on how tired we are or whether The Daily Show is a rerun, we all usually head for bed soon after the backyard is secured.

Sometimes I’m surprised by the sacredness of simple things.

The surprise doesn’t come because I didn’t realize they were sacred before; it comes when I find what Marcus Borg calls a “thin place,” which is a moment or an experience when I am vulnerable enough to be caught by surprise. That’s the phrase I’m looking for. I want to revise the earlier sentence.

Sometimes I’m caught by surprise by the sacredness of simple things.

Caught the way a child is caught when he jumps off the side of the pool into his waiting mother’s arms, gleefully giggling the whole time. Caught the way an expression is caught in a photograph, a two-dimensional picture holding layer upon layer of memory. Caught the way a fly ball is caught when the outfielder lays himself out in a desperate dive and comes up with the ball in his glove.

Caught by surprise.

These are days when the sacredness of the simple has to speak up because I’m not sure what the bigger picture is. Once again, for me, life is a waiting room. August has come. I’m very aware that these final weeks at Hanover will pass quickly and I want to do my goodbyes well. It’s beginning to look as though I will be able to work full time at the Red Lion Inn, which is great news – particularly financially – but I know, since I’m running to open space, there is greater light yet to break forth. For a guy who grew up learning that work is worth, waiting is a daunting thing. I’m supposed to be changing the world, not just coming up with the lunch special.

I got to see Ken, my spiritual director on Tuesday for the first time in a couple of months. I talked about the darkness of the past weeks and the uncertainty of the weeks to come. As I began to articulate my struggle with waiting, he began to quote T. S. Eliot:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,

For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

And I was caught by surprise, which is to say by grace.

Robert, the Chef at the Red Lion Inn, prides himself on begin able to taste something and tell you what’s in it. When he comes into the kitchen and one of us has made something new, he tastes it, concentrates on nothing else but the food in his mouth, and then –quite accurately – names the ingredients he has discerned. The wind that comes in off the water has a distinct aroma. There is some moisture, though not necessarily humidity. There is a hint, shall we say, of those who live in the sea. But there is more, as if the crashing waves have a smell and the sand and rocks, too – even the stars overhead somehow.

The sea breeze, our crazy pooches, dinner together with squash from our garden and wine from Greece, and time to write tonight have caught me by surprise. I’m seeing more light. I’m learning to wait and savor the simple things. I’m beginning to taste the possibilities.



africa hot


It could top 100 degrees in the Boston area today.

The heat wave that has been systematically baking the nation has reached us. As Matthew Broderick said in Biloxi Blues, “It’s hot. It’s hot. It’s Africa hot.” Well, I lived in Africa and I lived in Texas.

Texas is hotter.

Over the years we have been in New England, Ginger and I continue to be amused when the weather people talk about a “heat wave,” the official definition being three days over ninety degrees. By that measure, Central Texas has been in a heat wave since 1957. In the early eighties, I spent the summer working on the farm of one of the families in the small country church I pastured. They hired me to haul hay. For thirty-two days the temperature was over 100. Now that’s a heat wave.

The problem is not so much the temperature but that we’re not used to it. Most homes around here are not air-conditioned, which means by late afternoon the temperature outside is the temperature inside. We have enough fans blowing to make the house sound like a small airfield, but hot air that is circulating is still hot air. So we look for cool places. Ginger and I went to the movie yesterday evening mostly because it was cool inside.

During the winter, when my folks call to say they’ve had an inch of snow and ice and the entire region has shut down, it’s our turn to smile. We live with weeks of sub-freezing weather and often weeks with snow covering the ground. We also live with snow plows that keep the streets scraped and sanded. We know what to do with cold; we’re ready for it. We aren’t prepared for the heat.

I guess it boils down to what you’re used to and what you’re prepared for. Forty degrees is cold in Waco because it’s fifty degrees below what feels like normal. Forty degrees in March around here means we pull out the shorts because it’s thirty degrees warmer than it was in February.

When I was a kid and we were on leave from Africa (the same year I got to watch the World Series), we went to Cranfills Gap, Texas, which was my father’s seminary pastorate. The family we were visiting had a boy my age. They decided to take us hunting, which is what they were used to doing. I was not. We were walking across a field when we surprised an armadillo, who jumped straight up in the air and then scurried into the underbrush. When I asked what it was, the boy said, “You ain’t never seen a ‘diller before? Where you been?”

“Africa,” I answered. I knew about lions, leopards, and hippos that he had never seen. I just didn’t know about dillers. He thought I was nuts and I thought he was a hick. We both looked confused.

Our environment affects what we experience and, therefore, the questions we learn to ask. Last summer at UCC National Synod, I picked up In The Company of Others: A Dialogical Christology by David H. Jensen. The opening sentence of his preface reads:

In order to become more faithful disciples, Christians need the insights of persons who profess distinctly different religious commitments. (x)

He continues a bit later:

In this polyglot environment, we who are Christians need others to hold us accountable to our traditions, to criticize the instances in which our thinking and acting have denigrated others, and to express appreciation for how our traditions have affirmed other ways. Christians need others not simply to become more responsible theologians, but, more profoundly, to become more authentic followers of the One from Nazareth who placed others at the center of his ministry and message. (xi-xii)

Our answers are only as good as our questions. If our questions never move us beyond, “Why is it so hard for those folks to deal with stuff that feels normal to me?” we will never come up with answers that move us beyond the province of our own minds. The weather is not the same everywhere, nor are the animals.

I think I made my point.

I don’t know — it’s getting too hot to think. Africa hot.



love that dirty water


Last night Ginger and I spent the evening at Fenway Park watching our Boston Red Sox play the Cleveland Indians. Fenway is one of my favorite places. The nearly century-old park in one of the few not named after a corporation. It’s also one where you have to lean a bit to see around the support beams (as we did last night) and whose seats were built in a time when, well, our seats were smaller. We get to make a couple of trips a year to the ballpark. I look forward the sausage sub with peppers and onions I get from The Sausage King outside the park, the soft serve ice cream served in a mini Sox batting helmet inside, and the chance to sing “Sweet Caroline” (yes, the Neil Diamond song) with 36,000 of my closest friends in the middle of the eighth inning.

Good times never seemed so good (so good, so good, so good).

Thanks to a friend who works for the Sox, we had tickets last night about thirty rows up behind home plate. Next to me was a guy on two week leave from Afghanistan and his wife; next to Ginger was a guy who made me look small and his almost equally robust friend. Both pairs were on their drinking game. As one of my college pals used to say, “It’s all in the rhythm.” I went to get ice cream for Ginger and me. When I came back, one of the guys said, “They gave you ice cream and not beer? What happened — did you spell it wrong?”

I’ve been a Sox fan since I was a little kid, long before I ever thought I would get to live here. One of the favorite memories of my childhood was the 1967 World Series. My family was on leave from the mission field and we were living in Fort Worth, Texas. I was in sixth grade at Hubbard Heights Elementary School. The Sox were in the Series, back in the days of Carl Yastrzemski, and back in the days when television didn’t rule the world: there were still afternoon games. As I was leaving for school, my dad said, “Would you like me to write a note so you can come home early and we can watch the game together?” That was one of his best moments as a dad. We sat on the couch together for all the games and I had my heart broken as the Sox lost.

I sat on the couch here in Marshfield two seasons ago with Ginger and the pups and watched the Sox come back to beat the dreaded Yankees (hard to type that word without putting the word “suck” behind it) and then go on to win the World Series for the first time in eighty-six years. One of the big reasons was David Ortiz, or Big Papi as he is known to us here in Red Sox Nation.

Papi is a man who loves to play the game. His homeruns find their power in the sheer joy he finds in swinging for the fences. From his first at bat, we chanted “M-V-P” when he came to the plate. When we got to the bottom of the ninth, down by two runs with two men on base and his turn at bat, the moment felt destined more than scripted. On a steamy, moonless, windless night, we were all a part of a perfect moment. Everyone was on their feet, cheering and clapping. The first pitch was ball and another ball followed. With each pitch, the volume and expectancy intensified. Four times already this season, Ortiz had won the game in walk off fashion; we knew he would do it again.

And he did. He crushed the ball into straight away center field – I’m guessing 430 feet – and we went wild. Cora crossed the plate, and then Youkilis. Halfway down the third base line, Papi tossed his batting helmet as he usually does and then hopped up and down on home plate, his teammates surrounding him with all the joy of a sandlot victory. We were cheering so loudly we could only feel the bass line of “Dirty Water” as it played underneath our exultation. We came from behind again. The Yankees would stay in second place. We learned again you gotta believe in The Olde Towne Team.

One of the other cooks at the Red Lion Inn is Salvadorian. He calls me Papito – little Papi. I don’t know if means to draw the connection with Big Papi, but that’s the way I choose to take it and hope that I, too, can tap into the sheer joy that powers the man with a grin as big as the Green Monster.

I don’t know what it’s like to be for one of the other teams in baseball. I think one of the reasons I find such an affinity with the Sox is the eighty-six years without winning the Series. Even when we couldn’t win, it was still hard to get tickets to a game. Being a Sox fan meant we knew it would not always be this way. And it wasn’t. We finally won the Series; now we can have some fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to win the Series again this year and we have a team that could do it. In my ongoing tradition of taking poets a little out of context, I turn to words from Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass

the world is too full to talk about.

I know where that field is; I was there last night.

Oh, Boston! You’re my home.



blind and toothless


Years ago, when I was teaching at Charlestown High, we got in to a class discussion about fighting. It had nothing to do with the book we were reading. There had been a fight in the school that day and I asked the kids what happened. As we talked and I continued to ask questions, one of the students said, “Mr. B-C, you never hit anyone in your whole life, did you?”

He was pretty close to right. Other than Johnny Pike’s challenge to meet him on the playground after school to settle an argument over our sixth grade science project (of course he won – his name was Johnny Pike and I’m called Milton!) and a couple of shoving matches with my brother along the way, I’ve never taken a swing at anyone. Violence doesn’t make sense to me – and not because I think I would mostly end up on the losing end of the battle. Violence is not a solution to anything.

I know some of you think I’m naïve or idealistic. Violence is a part of life and there’s no way around it. There will always be wars and rumors of wars. It’s in the Bible. To take an Edna St. Vincent Millay line completely out of context,

“I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.”

I drove to church yesterday morning to the news of the Israeli air strike on the Lebanese town of Qana. At least fifty-four people were killed and over half of them were children. They were hiding in the basement of the building to get away from the bombing. Israel’s explanation was they believed rockets were had been fired from that building into Israel. Israel announced a forty-eight hour halt to the bombing so humanitarian aid could get in, people could get out, and an investigation could begin, but then said the bombings would continue since “the extremists will rear their heads anew.”

While most of the world is calling for an immediate ceasefire, Bush and Rice refuse to do so, saying they want to assure something more permanent, which I read as a not so coded message to Israel to get in as many shots as they can. A ceasefire of any kind makes sense because it means both sides stop the madness. There’s plenty of blame to go around on all sides. There is plenty of tragedy too. The way to peace is not to say, “You guys keep fighting while we figure something out.” All that means is were hoping someone can open a big enough can of Whupass to wipe out the other one and none of us will have to take peace seriously.

I mean, come on. Peace? Seriously?

On another occasion at Charlestown High, when I was new and working still as a substitute teacher, I took a student to the Dean of Discipline because he was swearing profusely in class – mostly at me. The woman who was the Dean was good at her job and known for her straightforwardness and her – how shall I say? – earthy approach. The student sat down across from her and I explained what had happened. She looked disgustedly at the student and said, “What the fuck are you swearing at Mr. B-C for?” and she gave him detention.

I wasn’t sure that was the best way to get her point across. All he knew was she could swear and he couldn’t. The real lesson was when you’re in charge you can do what ever you damn well please.

Living by “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” will leave us all blind and toothless. (Thanks, Ghandi!) We don’t start saving eyes and teeth by telling the ones with less power they are wrong, or saying an army can exact the same kind of violence as the insurgents but it’s OK for the army because they are an official government organization. It’s the same lesson: get enough power and you can do anything you damn well please. Maybe peace is unrealistic. But how realistic is it to think the solution is in continuing to bomb and fight?

That’s worked so well thus far in human history, hasn’t it?

In George Orwell’s 1984, the government’s promise of the future is “a boot stomping on a human face forever.” As inevitable as violence appears to the human condition, I refuse to assume it is a foregone conclusion.

“I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.”





Ginger and I went into Boston today for doctor’s appointments. Mine was in Copley Square and hers in Kenmore, so she dropped me off and took the car with her. The point of my trip was to talk to my doctor about my antidepressant and whether or not it was doing what it could or should. She had some ideas of ways to help it work better, but wanted me to talk to a psychiatrist about it first. The wonderful woman at the front desk started working on getting me an appointment and got me one within the hour at the same Kenmore Square office where Ginger was. I rode the Green Line to the Fenway and, after a productive meeting with the doctor, met Ginger. She was headed to a lunch meeting with a couple she is marrying this weekend; I was headed to Downtown Crossing to eat my favorite sandwich in the whole world.

Chacarero is a Spanish word that means farmer or peasant. It is also the name of a restaurant and the sandwich they make. Back when I was teaching at Charlestown High, I would go to Downtown Crossing every afternoon with my laptop to write in the Borders coffee shop – and I would, most afternoons, have a Chacarero for my late lunch. Back in the day, there were two guys selling them from a pushcart. The sandwich consists of a wonderful homemade bun, not as thick as a burger bun, about eight inches in diameter topped with grilled beef or chicken, steamed green beans, tomato slices, pepper sauce, avocado spread, and salt and pepper – all for about $6.50. Even when I got there at two-thirty there was still a line. There was also a good chance they were sold out of either the beef or the chicken.

I ate there enough that they recognized me. One day, the older of the two men told me his story of coming to America and starting his food stand. He talked about how his business had grown and how that helped him bring over family and friends from Chile. He also told me he was moving up: he was going to move into the side of Filenes, the big department store, where he had more space and could be out of the weather. He moved and his staff grew. For years now they have been making sandwiches from eleven in the morning until six at night. And there’s always a line. In fact, there are two: you stand in one line to order and another to pick up your sandwich. In the eight or nine people working in the small kitchen, I can still see the guys who used to be at the pushcart. Now, I hear, they even have a sit down restaurant. I think that’s great, but I wouldn’t know how to eat a Chacarero if I wasn’t sitting outside in Downtown Crossing after standing in line for my sandwich, which I have been doing now for a decade.

I don’t really have a big finish here other than to say Chacarero is food at its best: homemade, well done, and feeding people. I love how it feels to go there. I love how it makes me feel. I hope it’s still fun for the folks behind the counter. They are doing great work.





I’ve had a simple goal since I wrote last Wednesday: read a novel.

There are times when a small act of defiance reverberates in larger ways; reading a novel from beginning to end for the first time in a couple of years felt like a profound gesture for me. As we headed into Boston yesterday, I knew I was going to have some waiting time, so I decided to read something other than the outdated copies of People and Sports Illustrated that I was sure would be in the waiting area (they were). The nest task was choosing a book. Since the number of books in our house rivals the number of CDs and I have any number of unread novels calling out to me, the choice took a little time. What caught my eye of the book I picked was the title: The Miracle. What sold me on my choice was the author: John L’Heureux, whose novel The Shrine at Altimara is one of the most tragic and most beautifully told stories I know. I opened the book to the flyleaf where I always write my name, when I bought the book, and where we were living at the time. My inscription said: Milton Brasher-Cunningham, October 2003, Green Harbor.

L’Heureux’s inscription read: “Choose life.” Deuteronomy 30:19.

The story, set in the 1970s, centers around Paul LeBlanc, a Catholic priest in South Boston who loved being a priest and loved testing the limits. His rebel steak gets him moved from Boston to a small parish on the New Hampshire coast where he works with Father Moriarty, who is in the final stages of ALS. Rose, their housekeeper, has a daughter called Mandy, who is a drug user and a troubled child. Mandy overdoses and, by the time LeBlanc, Rose, and the paramedics get to her, she is dead. Rose asks everyone to leave the room and begins to pray; Mandy wakes up and asks for an aspirin.

Paul LeBlanc knows he has seen a miracle and doesn’t know what to do with it. He does the best he can by ending his homily about Lazarus with the statement: ”On the last day we will be asked the only question that matters. . . . ‘Whom have you loved back to life?’ ”

A few days later, Mandy is killed in a motorcycle accident, which rips the scab off the crisis of faith and identity that was at the root of LeBlanc’s restlessness to begin with. But, for me as the reader, was strengthened by the circumstances, not invalidated. I looked at some reviews online to see how others read the story and found this from Bruce Bawer:

The truth that he has stumbled upon — and that the author plainly wishes to underscore — is that human love can restore, renew, revive. If Rose is magical, it is simply because she is human, and because she loves.

To be sure, as L’Heureux reminds us on nearly every page, people are imperfect, lacking in willpower, infirm in their beliefs, their lives cluttered and unfocused, their character traits largely impervious to change. (”Why can’t I be humble?” Moriarty asks. ”Why can’t pigs fly?”) Yet love can work through them to effect wonders. The human soul is the seedbed of the miraculous; it is primarily through one another that we mortal millions encounter the divine. (New York Times, October 27, 2002)

I have a miracle story of my own. My parents went to Africa as missionaries in 1957. To get from Texas to Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia meant first getting to New York to catch a ship and then sail for thirty-one days around the Cape of Good Hope to Beira, Mozambique. I turned one on the voyage. A couple of months before we left, I came down with double pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. When the doctors said it was safe for me to travel, we drove to Oklahoma City to see my grandmother. While we were there, a man who was a pharmacist told my mother he had some medicines to send to one of our mission hospitals and asked if she would carry it, since mailing it was not reliable. She took the package, which was an irritation for the rest of the journey.

On board the ship my parents met the Emmanuels, who were from Bulawayo. Dr. Emmanuel convinced my parents to drive on to Bulawayo (we had our car with us) after we docked rather than spend the night in Beira. They knew the way, so we followed them on our first journey in Africa. We settled into our house and the next morning I had a relapse of the pneumonia. My parents called the Emmanuels – the only people we knew – and told them what had happened. Dr. Emmanuel showed up at the house with a colleague who was a respiratory specialist and he confirmed what my folks already knew. Then he said, “I’m afraid your baby is going to die. He needs pediatric acromyacin and there is none in this country. If we send to Johannesburg, it will take five days to get here. He cannot last that long. I’m sorry.”

In their shock, my father said, “We have a box of medicine we have been carrying for the bush hospital. Let’s open it and just see.”

The only thing in the box was pediatric acromyacin.

I didn’t remember the story; it was told to me over and over. I’m grateful it was and I don’t always know what to do with it. I don’t feel a need to explain it anymore than I want to theologize about it. I’m truly thankful I got to live longer than a year and I think part of the reason I internalized that love was earned and I was not always worthy of it is because I didn’t know how a miracle baby was supposed to grow up. The story is wonderful, but it is not the best story in my life. I think that’s why LeBlanc’s question – who have you loved back to life? – resonated so deeply. I have been loved back to life over and over again. LeBlanc and the others spoke to me because I got to see how they lived after the miracle and after the tragedy; both were defining moments for all of them, which they lived out in their daily routines.

I finished the book this morning – a small miracle in its own way. As I finished, Gracie, climbed up on my arm and slapped my cheek, which is Schnauzer for, “It’s time to kiss.” I put the book down and picked her up and she licked my face with abandon. I am alive because of a miracle; I stay alive because I am loved.

I am really, really loved.



chance meeting


In a different chapter of my life I was a high school English teacher. I started as a building sub at Charlestown High School in Boston and worked my way into a job, staying there for seven years. I loved being with the kids, but the bureaucratic tag team of the School System and the Teachers’ Union bludgeoned me until I headed for the suburbs. I taught for three years at Winchester High School, in the town of the same name, where Ginger’s church was. I stopped teaching when we moved to Marshfield because I didn’t want to commute across the city everyday, I wanted to write, and I was exhausted from the paperwork. Once I stopped being exhausted, I found out I was depressed.

Ginger and I were in Boston today. We were through with our tasks and I told her to wait in the lobby of the building while I went to get the car out of the parking garage. I stepped on to the elevator with a woman who looked familiar to me. About halfway to my floor, I realized who she was, or I thought she was – I hadn’t seen her in at least ten years. When she got off on my floor, I decided to chance it.

“Excuse me. Are you Dania?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, a bit puzzled and then her expression changed. “Mr. B-C!” she said and gave me a big hug. We stood and talked in the parking garage for ten or fifteen minutes. We talked about what we are both doing and some of where we had been since we saw each other. She also talked about our class acting out Much Ado About Nothing together and how she still goes to see Shakespeare plays when she can because of how much fun we had together.

It was fun. Our class was about sixty percent nonnative English speakers, so the Bard’s language was a challenge. I was new to teaching and desperate for ideas, so I tried most anything. We learned how to stage sword fight with dowel rods. We developed an ear for Shakespeare’s words by hurling insults at each other. Most of all, we didn’t read the play, we acted it out. At the end, the students had to do projects to show what they had learned. Audalio told the whole story in rap. Dania memorized a scene and performed it. When we were done, they understood what they had read and they were proud of it. I was too.

Dania is in television now. She asked if I was still teaching and I told her I was a chef. She started talking about food and how much she loves to cook. “There’s something about being in the kitchen that’s good,” she said.

She’s right. The kitchen, whether at home or at work, has been the one Depression Free Zone in my life. Something about the tactile work of cutting and chopping, the aromas of the sauces and spices, and the promise of food to share keep the monster at bay. Being in the kitchen is good. I came home to find some things in the garden ready to harvest, so I brought them in and went to cooking a Swiss Chard Bisque and what I call Turkabama Squash Croquettes. We ate well tonight.

What I miss about teaching is being in the classroom with students, talking about things that matter, being a part of helping them discover who they are, laughing together, learning together, and helping them live through high school. But I couldn’t live through high school from my end. I lost more ground than I gained each day. What I love about being in the kitchen is making something out of whatever it is I have, filling up the house or the restaurant with promising smells, creating meals that bring people together and feed my friends and family. Making dinner may not change lives in the same way as teaching did, but if feeds rather than drains me.

As I try to discern what the next chapter for me will be, I’m grateful for a chance encounter on the elevator to help me remember what has been.