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Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, October 08 2011 10:07


For several days, we at 17 Howland Street have had as guest a real live praying mantis. This is the being that the French call “mante religieuse.” How he affixed himself to the wall on our front porch baffles us householders.


After some hours of residency, he moved slightly to another position on the wall. After he remained there for much of the first day, we thought he might be dead. But, no, he was alive enough to disappear for the night. Since it was cold, we thought it might be his last night in this world.


However, he came back again, ready for perhaps a longer stay than we imagined. Presumably he has preyed on other small creatures sufficiently to have prepared his stomach for extending his guest status. We feel honored at being favored as his home, especially since no other site on our street seems to have acted as a kind of motel for this never-before-seen-by-us creature.


Since we need all he prayers we can get, this mysterious creature is welcome to stay as long as he wants.  

Unique Achievement PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, September 26 2011 09:31

Yesterday, I entered the mythical Hall of Fame of my softball community. To achieve this distinction took a feat never before seen by veteran players of several decades’ experience. What I did was to hit into a triple play!


Runners were on second and first base. So when I hit a hard grounder that almost touched third base, the fielder quickly stepped on third for the force-out, threw to second for another, and in turn the second baseman threw to first in time to get me called out.


In witnessing this unprecedented event, my fellow players went wild with excitement. As they ran in from the field, they clapped me on the back, shook my hand, and congratulated me for my feat. Our leader even gave me the ball to take home as a souvenir of the great event.


Through my long and dubious career as a softballer, I could point to many gruesome errors and misplays of large proportions. But this is the first time that a thoroughly inglorious action on my part has led to universal celebration and merriment.



Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, August 10 2011 10:11

What more enjoyable evening for a music lover than a house concert? That event formed the heart of a dinner party to which I was invited one evening last weekend. To have heard four young women, students of our next-door neighbor Emily, sing the works of classical composers counted for me as a rare pleasure.

Emily is a mezzo soprano herself and a veteran voice teacher who apparently brings out the best in her students. The four we heard—Anna, Allegra, Olivia, and Caroline—delivered works from Bach to Britten with skill, charm, and aplomb. The variety of song and the range of talents displayed by the singers make it difficult to single out any one rendition. I enjoyed them all.

The house concert format reminds me of the practices of earlier centuries in European homes. There, in the days before recordings were available, musicians, famous and otherwise, would perform for their hosts and their guests. Our Hauskonzert (if I’ve got the Germanic word right) brought me the same delight that I envision those music lovers experienced. I felt sorry for the passers by on our short street who could hear only snatches as they proceeded. (Had I been in their place, I would have not gone further.)


This party was characterized by sheer joy. Another that I had attended in the later afternoon at Boston College was marked by regret and a certain bewilderment. There we were saying farewell to a Jesuit friend, a moral theologian, who was being forced to leave the university. Surely, I thought, in going to the gathering of his friends I could find out why he had to leave his post after many years of effective teaching and scholarship.

However, no one, not even the departer, could tell me what the reason is. That leaves his large army of friends wondering about what ecclesiastical power is being unleashed on our dear friend who, to all appearances, has done nothing wrong. Is the Vatican behind this, pushing him out because of alleged heterodoxy?  Or is it the Jesuit machine, anxious to please that same power, that has done him (and us) in?

We do not know. No one knows. Or, at least, no one is talking.

This does not make for such a good party.



99TH BIRTHDAY PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Thursday, August 04 2011 08:52

          “Don’t let go, old leaf.

            Hang onto the withered branch

            Till spring: then float down.”


These lines come from a small booklet called “Mortuary Airs,” written by my friend Dan Aaron. In its few pages, he takes a jaunty view of death but respects its prerogatives.

Today this friend reaches 99. Yes, he was born on this day in 1912.

 Though he does not believe in celebrating birthdays, I disagree — especially when a life of this length comes into view. Dan ranks as the only person I have known well who has reached this peak.

He continues to amaze me, not just by his longevity but also through his daily pattern of living. On virtually every morning, he travels, using a walker, from his home in Harvard Square to his office at the university. There he reads and writes, as he has always done, a model of unflagging scholarship.

Of course, he lives with the physical trials of extended old age. Sometimes, these trials weigh on him as they would on anyone—not being able to walk without material assistance cannot please a fellow long addicted to daily travel on foot.

But in our frequent conversations Dan shows himself spirited and appreciative of his life. This July 4th we ate makeshift lunches in his office as we have done on other major holidays and feast days such as Christmas. On those occasions the building that houses his office is eerily quiet, deserted by the academics and students who usually can be seen and heard attending to their business and pleasures.

Our conversation ranges far and wide, often touching on those parts of American history that we have both lived through, he with 16 more years of it than I can boast. He often shares anecdotes featuring some of the many famous literary figures he has known. In turn, I relate events in my own life, many of them focusing on the customs of the ecclesiastical settings in which I have lived.

Dan’s memory for certain things far outdoes mine. For example he can quote poems and songs from way back with remarkable accuracy. I have especially enjoyed hearing him recite lines from The Windhover, a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, my favorite poet. Though Dan is Jewish, he relishes this 19th century Jesuit’s work with its Catholic sensibility.

It helps our talk that Dan and I share the same political outlook. We often join in deep regret about the prevailing forces in our American government. We both remember better days, and worse ones too.

My hope is to have Dan celebrate his 100th birthday next August and then live even longer. He may be ready but I’m not for the event he envisions in some of the last lines of Mortuary Airs:

One day

He slipped away—

An unbossed event.


Leaping the Great Divide,

He deftly died

With only scant dis-ease

“No boo-hoo music please.”


Written by Richard Griffin   
Tuesday, August 02 2011 08:39

Of Badlands, a film made by Terence Malik in 1973, the critic David Thomson has written:  “may be the most assured first film by an American since Citizen Kane.” My interest in seeing it came about, not from its place in cinema history, but rather because of a personal discovery.

A friend, Jack Womack whom I see several days a week in our locker room told me of his longstanding friendship with Malik, a fellow Oklahoman. Now retired from the Harvard faculty, Jack recently saw Malik’s new film, The Tree of Life, and recommended it to me.

I did not ascend to Jack’s level of enthusiasm for this ambitious work but discussion about it led to a surprising revelation. Jack told me that Malik had given him a role in Badlands. This disclosure astounded me because I would never have expected Jack, a reserved scholar of Latin American history, to have assumed a dramatic part in a major film.

Granted, the role was small. He played a state trooper responsible for transporting by air the captured killer who had finally been caught by the police. Sitting next to the young criminal, Jack spoke twice. The first line was a only a single word “state.” That was the trooper’s answer to a question about where he got his hat.

The second line was a little longer as he replied to the killer’s desire to get such a hat. There was simply no way that could happen answered the trooper. Then the plane took off.

When I asked Jack whether it was a real plane, he told me that it came from a firm that owned World War II aircraft and leased them to movie makers. Not only was it real but it actually took off. Even more striking, Jack tells me, during the flight the plane almost crashed.



SKYPE PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Saturday, July 09 2011 09:31

An evening’s international conversation over Skype has shown once again what a stupendous communications device this is.

To have detailed images of Tom and Maria, our friends in Montreal, filling my computer screen and those of my wife Susan and me filling theirs stirred in me feelings of awe. How can this free service provide such face-to-face contact so simply and without fail?

 We had scope to review family news, as well as evaluation of Terrence Malik’s film “The Tree of Life” and Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” We finished by exchanging details on our friends’ forthcoming visit.

 Among the technology wonders of our age, Skype deserves much more than honorable mention,

World of Horror PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, June 15 2011 09:21

Statistics of human trafficking throughout the world overwhelm my imagining. Reliable estimates put the figure at 30 million. These tragically unfortunate people have fallen victim to various forms of enforced degradation that violate their dignity and their human rights.

The United Nations defines trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability or of giving or receiving payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Most Americans remain unaware of this sobering reality of the modern world. Yet, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has written many columns graphically describing trafficking, especially that of girls and young women, and interviewing its victims. And one sees photos of young boys pressed into the military forces of various armed groups and forced to fight.

Such situations cry out for justice but trafficking, in appalling numbers, continues to plague many people whose lives suffer horrible violation. If we think the modern world has moved beyond such horrors, we ignore one of terrible realities of those who live in our global society but receive oppression from it.

Human trafficking confirms my pessimistic view of the world. However, my commitment to hope receives support from knowing about the many courageous people who work against this great evil.

Dreamscape PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Thursday, June 09 2011 08:23

I found myself at the Eucharistic liturgy in an Episcopalian church. Somehow, the pew I was sitting in was uncomfortable so I crossed over the aisle and awkwardly climbed over a lady sitting at the end of the row. In doing so I missed what was going on at the altar. As a result I failed to receive Communion.


Later, I went to the sacristy in order to complain to the celebrant about the length of the service. I wanted to persuade him that it should have been considerably shorter. But he hardly paid any attention to me; instead he was caught up in conversation with a woman.


This vivid dream brings back traces of my ecclesiastical career. It also gives expression to my current impatience with long ceremonies, speeches, movies, and other such events. For me at this stage of life I prefer shorter rather than longer in almost everything. Even this blog. 

TURMOIL PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Wednesday, June 08 2011 09:28

Sudan, Yemen, Bahrein, Kuwait - These are places formerly not in my consciousness. Now part of our global community, they occupy my rapt attention. Virtually every day, I read about the turmoil that has engulfed them and hope for populist forces to win out. But the possibilities for other outcomes, some of them awful, loom in the background. What is going to happen to these vulnerable communities? And what will be the impacts on our mighty, but troubled, nation? 

MANTRA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Friday, February 25 2011 08:48
My late life mantra: The Mystery Deepens
Sharing Something PDF Print E-mail
Written by Richard Griffin   
Monday, February 07 2011 09:21

“Self-publishing has an illustrious history. Milton published Areopagitica himself and Whitman self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. When he could not find a publisher for his first novel, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets, Stephen Crane published it himself. James Joyce in similar circumstances published Ulysses with the help of Sylvia Beach and her Shakespeare and Company bookshop. The Joy of Cooking was first published by its author and so were such recent best sellers as Richard Evans’s Christmas Box and Tom Peters’s In Search of Excellence.”   

Jason Epstein in The New York Review of Books, February 10, 2011, p. 30.


Without putting myself in the ranks of the illustrious authors cited by Epstein, I can claim a modest place among the self-published. As of this date, my work has not yet found a company willing to take it on. Nor may that ever happen, despite continued efforts to place it with a publisher.

Nonetheless, my memoir has proven a source of pleasure for many family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues and others who have read it. That makes it doubly worthwhile to have written it: my own pleasure in writing it has produced  compound interest.

And I do share with these writers of English the same language and the exhilaration that comes from the skillful use of words, phrases, and other forms of expression. Like them I have struggled to write well, a struggle that has not rarely produced good results.

So it’s gratifying to have something in common, however limited, with the great writers and those not great but successful.



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