My Travels : Notes & Thoughts: (Part 1) Dr. Fr. AJ Sebastian sdb

My Travels : Notes & Thoughts: Dr. Fr. AJ Sebastian sdb

 GET SET GO!!!

I took off  from New Delhi on 11  June 1989 by KLM to Amsterdam en route  to New York. There was a lousy long  stop over for the connecting flight to New York. After almost eighteen  hours of flight, I landed at the Kennedy International airport at around 15 hours local time.

I found no one at the lounge to   receive me. After a futile search, the idea dawned that I make a collect call to my cousins. I was told that the reception party had left a long time earlier for the airport. My nephew came searching for me,  but they couldn’t locate me in the huge crowds, coming in by the various  flights.  They waited for me at the  arrival lounge, thinking that my flight was delayed. Neither they nor I recognised each other. It was like a Comedy of Errors. Since, they were all in the U.S., I had never met them. So, I asked every Indian-looking face I met, “Are you  the  Simsons?” In the meantime,  they were,  on  their search mission too. After nearly twenty minutes of running around, they managed to locate me.

Meeting the  Simpsons after fifteen years,  was a historical event.  They have all migrated to the USA. Their family property in South India has been sold too, as they are all U.S. citizens. The  Simsons own a restaurant – “Bengal Tiger” – in a posh area of White Plains, N.Y. – frequented often by celebrities, seeking Indian cuisine.

Suma, my cousin sister began to shed tears of joy – perhaps recollecting the past when we played together as kids and her feeling of being rootless,  in a  diaspora existence,  in a foreign land. I presumed that my presence brought to her mind memories of socio-cultural roots.  I realised, rootlessness cannot be substituted with prosperity.

I sat chatting with the family,  after a sumptuous dinner. They were eager to know all about everyone at home in India. As we conversed, my eyes probed every  nook and corner of the sitting room, filled with Indian bronze statues and antiques. Simson told me that he had a passion for  antiques. “I’ve imported all these antiques to be in touch with our culture. I own a lot of these in my “Bengal Tiger” restaurant as well. It is a big attraction for my customers.”  “You don’t know,’ he continued, “I came to NY with $ 10 in my pocket, twenty five years ago, in search of  livelihood for my family,  after my father’s sudden demise. I had no educational qualification, except a class ten certificate. Today, I have everything that money can buy: flats, restaurants and I own a newspaper in our language. I have a host of servants of Asian and South American origin. I understood  his  mind. Having had no formal higher education, he was  striving to  create an artificial culture around him, with a large collection of  antiques and by publishing a newspaper. He was extremely pleased,  when I told him of my doctoral research. What he had missed in life, at least his kinsman could  accomplish. Suffering from jet-lag, I was not in a mood for anything except sleep. They had arranged for a hectic tour of New York from the following day. But my mind was set on my research and not on tours.

TO LIBERTY ISLAND   

13th June: I woke up to a grey  and dreary morning as the kids Mat, Johnny and Mary were in my room,  pestering me to be ready for the tour. Though, they had toured  the city several times, they wanted to luxuriate in a sightseeing trip with their new found uncle from India. Four of us set out with the Colombian driver, Santiago, a plump jovial fellow. He took the central stage in a matter of minutes. He began boasting of his exploits. He had big dreams of  becoming moneyed. That is why  he came to New York ten years  back.  But  I wonder why he continued to remain in the driver’s seat. “You know, Reverend,” he exclaimed. “Mammooty, the south Indian  film star, has  promised to give me a villain’s role in his  up-coming movie!” I was taken aback when he said that he had signed up with the movie star. “How come, you met the star?” “He was  staying in your room until yesterday; his  family left for  California. I drove him around  the whole of last week.”

When I met Simson, he told me that Mammotty was his classmate and a family friend. He had invited him to the U.S. for a fund raising ‘Star studded nite,’ for the South Indian community. Simpson was interested in producing a movie with the help of the mega star. Of course, Santiago would be given a minor role too. Little wonder, he was dreaming of becoming a celebrity.

 Santiago was  smart in getting us all on board a liner,  for a ride around the Manhattan river and the statue of Liberty. I was disappointed that the  trip to the Statue of Liberty had to be cancelled as Nelson Mandela of South Africa was in the area. However, we managed  to see it from a very close distance. It is the monument that represents the American dream – a bronze statue,  gifted by the French. But,  I soliloquised, “But, what is it compared to my visit to the Taj Mahal some years back, when I stood with tears welling up in my eyes, admiring the greatness of the seventh wonder of the world.”

New York is  great,  as the city of all nationalities of the world. Santiago  wanted to give me an idea of the various important places from atop the World Trade Center. Going up the 116 storied World Trade Center  in a minute by lift,  was a marvel of modern technology in architecture. The black smart black lift-woman was very loquacious in her lecture on the lift and skyscraper. I stood watching  huge concrete towers everywhere. I had a feeling of Arthur Miller when he made his character Loman speak of “grass don’t grow anymore,” because of the  enormous concrete structures. Well, money could make these structures – but money cannot buy a history and culture, we have in India, symbolized by our monuments.

Santiago took charge of  explaining all he knew of New York, giving me an aerial view. Pointing to the north in the direction of Hudson river,  he showed me the  Henry Hudson Park and Riverside drive,  which are the busiest traffic routes of New York. We could see the  George Washington Bridge to New Jersey. He pointed out  the southern corner of Manhattan,  which is the centre of  New York’s financial district , including the New York Stock Exchange and seats of  Banks and Insurance Companies. I could see the  famous Central Park,  which is about 500 acres with a cluster of trees and parks,  right in the middle of the city. I was told, it  extends  from 59th Street to 110th Street and from 5th Avenue to 8th Avenue. Through my binoculars, I could see clearly, the Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty. Later I was interested in visiting  the Washington Arch, a memorial to the first President, which is located at the 5th Avenue.

“Did you visit  all the important places in New York?” asked my brother over phone from Lapwai. When I told him that I couldn’t make to the Statue of Liberty, he was quite upset. To make it worse, I showed my disinterestedness, as my mind was absorbed in my research. “How can you as a  teacher miss visiting the Statue of Liberty?” Being a scholar of history and sociology, he thought  it imperative that I should make my study tour more meaningful, by visiting all possible historical places. All I could do was,  to promise him that I would do so on my return to New York,  after my research at Gonzaga.

When I returned to New York by the end of August, We took a ferry from Battery Park to Liberty Island. This time, I made sure I visited every nook and corner of the Statue of Liberty and went up to the crown which has the height of  a 22 floor building. I had  a conspicuous view of New York and the harbour.

I read the information board carefully:

PLANNING YOUR VISIT TO LIBERTY ISLAND :There are many options from which to choose when planning your visit to Liberty Island. Shown here are:

THE CROWN :You can visit the  crown of the statue, from which there is a limited  view of New York harbor. The 22 storey climb may be difficult for some visitors. A wait in line of 2 or 3 hours may be required.

TOP OF THE PEDESTAL : The top of the pedestal is 10 storeys high. The outside balcony offers the best views of Manhattan and New York harbor.

PROMENADE: From the Promenade you will have  a clear views of the harbor and the Manhattan skyline. The Promenade can be reached from the third level.

THIRD LEVEL: The immigration exhibit portrays through words, objects and photographs, the arrival of millions of new Americans and their contribution to the United States.

SECOND LEVEL:  The Statue of Liberty exhibit depicts the fascinating  history and evolving national and international symbolism of the Statue  through models, replicas and artifacts.

My brother was right in his insistence that I should visit  this great national monument. It is a sculptured statue,  showing a lady trying to  flee from her bondage. The chains are at  her feet. The burning torch in her right hand stands for liberty and the tablet on the left hand is  inscribed with the date of the declaration of American independence – July 4, 1776. On the crown are seven rays symbolic of the seven seas and the seven continents. This great statue has become an international symbol of  freedom, welcoming thousands of immigrants and visitors to the United States. I jotted down the inspiring poem at the base of the statue.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering  limbs astride from land to land:

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities fame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Visiting further the Ellis Island, which was the gateway to the U.S. for more than 16 million immigrants since last century, is a reminder to the struggle for the American dream. The museum has exhibits that tell the story of the greatest immigration in world history.

Having set my mind on my thesis in the making, I didn’t have any other interest. I became almost a replica of my own Philosophy teachers, who, while pursuing his PhD research in Rome, went  all the way to Paris just to consult a library and returned without  even visiting any other part of the city. I guess, when we are absorbed in a serious work, nothing else matters.

IN HEMINGWAY’S  IDAHO

My flight to Lewistone, Idaho, was on Sunday, 24 June. My cousin Babu promised to take me to the airport. I was keen on my reaching the  airport ahead of time, though my United Airlines flight was at 1 pm. I suggested that we leave for the airport by  11 am. They all laughed at me. “This is New York”, retorted Babu. “You are not in your  Calcutta, don’t worry – I know the time required to reach the airport.” I had a premonition that something strange was in the offing. I waited anxiously  that Sunday morning from 11 am for Babu to arrive. Having become suddenly very religious, he had gone for a Sunday service and returned around 12 noon. I was very upset and angry; but controlled myself as I was  fully at their mercy in a foreign land.  We drove off to be caught up in a holiday traffic jam for 35 minutes.

I had a premonition that I might  end up missing  the flight. Reaching the airport, I ran with my bag and baggage to the United Airlines ticket counter, where I was told: “Sorry, sir. You are late. The aircraft is ready for departure.” But, I pleaded with the lady staff to let me  in. Unbelievable! She was kind enough to  contact the aircraft, and get a green signal for me to go in.

The flight from New York to Lewistone was via Chicago, Denver and Seattle. Eight hours’ flight took me over the bare Rocky mountains. I had read about this  great mountain range  when a kid in high school. Therefore, I was  thrilled  to have an aerial view of this  huge  chain of  rugged mountains in Western North America, extending for about 3220 km. I found  very little  vegetation; grasslands with some forests. Most of the high peaks are bare and snow-capped throughout the year.

My brother was waiting for me at the airport at Lewistone. It took us an hours drive to reach his Native American reservation at Lapwai.  I lived with those wonderful and affectionate people and enjoyed their tribal hospitality. Jokingly I told them, “I am the real Indian, though Colombus called you so.” I found a lot of similarities between them and the tribals of Northeast India. They lived in their reservations all by  themselves, protected by  U.S. Federal Law. I found it strange  as the Native Indians don’t really come up in society. Most are poor and very few seek higher education. Once, the masters of the land, they are now rendered landless by the  conquest of the Europeans.

I was shocked  to hear of people living in  reservations – confined to a limited area. These poor  native Americans have been fully exploited by the supremacy of the whites. I called them our Indian cousins. They were humoured to hear  me address them so. They are a very sturdy race, intelligent and friendly. But I could read marks of  suffering on their faces – the agony of a race getting extinct.

 Native Americans have been called American Indians. It was Christopher Columbus who mistakingly called them Indians. People in the West had considered them an uncouth race,  living in the forests. It was President Thomas Jefferson (in office1801-1809), who in his humanitarian effort to uplift them, strove to incorporate them into the mainstream of American society.

One of my American Indian friends, a horse trainer, wanted me to ride  his pet horse by all means. I politely declined saying, “I’ve not come here  all the way from India to break my bones,  in a horse-riding exercise.” Instead, he obliged me for a fishing trip in the river  across the  street. I was so happy to hook a trout. I saw it for the first time and relished it during lunch. It was the first hand experience of what Hopkins sang in his “Pied Beauty,” glorifying the Creator also “For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim.”

In my younger days, I used to be very fond of  cowboy movies and loved to see their struggle for survival. Since I reached the cowboy country, I was eager to know more about them. The cowboys are people hired by cattle owners to look after their animals. They are shepherds on horseback. Our Indian counterparts, instead, ride on a buffalo or a cow.

Cowboys are  conspicuous for their rough attire. I presume, perhaps the jeans outfit suited their requirement, as they could use it for a long time, without changing or washing, until it becomes tattered.

When tears appear at the knees they conveniently stitch a patch on them. Their skin-tight attire with leather pieces, protect them from insects and thorns.  They wear broad, brimmed hats that protect them from sun and shower. They usually have a kerchief to cover the lower part of the  face to protect it from dust. The high-heeled boots, prevent slipping of the feet.  They carry a revolver and lasso  for rounding up the cattle. The cowboys  in the past were people with great strength and endurance, as they had to go on long treks, driving cattle to shipping points. The risky trek called for security too. They were rough and tough types with great skill in horsemanship and have become legendary symbols of manliness and heroic virtues.

Unfortunately, some of our kids in India love the jeans attire as latest in town, not knowing the true story behind, doing away with our convenient attires. It is a pity, they tend to ape everything Western, disregarding their own fine sartorial heritage.

Going through the fields one day, I was warned by my brother not to touch the wild dry hemlock. It has finely divided leaves and small white flowers.   A very unpleasant smelling plant, it is fatal to consume any part of it. I was told it grows wild in that area.

Though they burn it regularly, it grows wild. Hemlock has become the symbol of the members of the Hemlock Society, who believe in mercy killing. Socrates, when he was sentenced to death, is alleged to have died by consuming hemlock. The alkaloids in the plant affect the nervous system leading to respiratory problems, trembling and loss of coordination.

 Idaho is the most mountainous of the Rocky Mountain states and even today it has some of the largest roadless regions and protected wildernesses in the U.S.A. There are over 80 mountain ranges mostly in the northern and central sections. The wilderness is full of precipitous peaks and swift mountain streams, which have carved out deep canyons, and the landscape is a paradise for nature lovers. The southern section of Idaho consists of the Basin and Plateau to the Southeast and the Columbia Plateau which follows the Snake river across southern and Western Idaho. This is a fertile region of deep valleys and grassy plateaus including the Snake River plain and a vast lava bed.

‘The State is known for salmon and clear-water river basins. The streams are beautiful in their curling and folding. It is even said that if the rivers are stretched they would circle the earth. The salmon and the steelhead trout are ocean-going fish, but strangely they are born in mountain streams,  hundreds of miles inland. They pass through the Snake and Columbia rivers and enter the Pacific Ocean. Later they return, when they are fully grown and fight their way upstream to where they were born. They lay eggs and die. I was curious to know more about salmon and trout as I went fishing with my friends.

A Salmon has a long body covered with small scales. It is an excellent food and game fish which can survive in both fresh and salt water in the colder regions. At the time of breeding the fish returns from salt water to freshwater and the young return back to salt water from freshwater once they reach maturity. It is quite interesting to note that they have a peculiar migratory nature. Generation after generation they keep returning to spawn in the same breeding places.

Early  morning of 28 July my brother and I set off to Boise—a six hour drive from Lapwai. Boise, the capital of Idaho, is the seat of Ada County. I was to substitute the Pastor Rev. John Donohew for a month at St. Mark’s Church. There were two other Associate Pastors there— Pat Russell and Ron Wekerle. Pat is an invalid in a wheelchair due to a rare bone disease. Ron is a vibrant young priest newly ordained a few months before. Being inexperienced with the American public, I was very cautious  and worried as to how they would accept me. Soon my phantasmal fears were proved erroneous as the people of St. Mark’s made me feel at home and took me as part of their household. They loved my Services and Sermons. Though I spoke with an Indian accent, they could figure out more or less the content of my sermons. I had made copies of my sermons for those who found it difficult to follow me. Within a few days they got adjusted to my Indian English. By and by I found very few reading through the “paper sermon” as they preferred to listen to me live. I was encouraged by the sign of appreciation. They wondered how I could speak so fluently in English. They were even more surprised to know that I was working on a Ph.D. degree in English Literature.

I searched for a Ph.D. in English Poetry to discuss my thesis plans. To my surprise there was hardly any in all of Boise who specialized in my area of study. This is quite unlike in India where we find Ph.Ds in plenty. The difference is perhaps due to the fact that in the U.S. they go for specialization according to job opportunities. Education is very expensive, unlike in India, where it is remarkably affordable.

3 July 1990 was a red letter day in the annals of Idaho. It was a time to celebrate Idaho’s Bicentennial. I reached in time for the grand finale. Dr.Heric Stackle and family took me out to witness the various events. There was a cultural extravaganza of parade through the streets of Boise.

Over fifty beautiful floats depicted American history and Idaho’s growth. Surprisingly there was an Indian float with Indian children in traditional dress. Native American tribal dances crowned the parade. Though extraordinary for the local spectators, it didn’t impress me and I commented to my friends, “I am used to such parades every year on our Republic Day. We have similar cultural and tribal dances in India—hundreds of them.” I began to appreciate the great cultural heritage we have in contrast to the brief history of the American people. However, the greatness of America is that it is a world in miniature, a Nation of Nations. Every country and culture in the world is found in this great Country.

There was fanfare in the evening in the Governor’s garden and the Idaho State University Campus. Being interested in jazz and pop music, I went around the various musical troupes performing simultaneously at different corners. The young, they danced around the pop stars as they performed. The elderly preferred to be in the auditorium for the Philharmonic Orchestra.

The country western music attracted young and old alike as it originated somewhere in those areas of U. S. In my musical curiosity I went visiting every troupe in performance, to assess the American musical ebullience that has influenced the rest of the world so much. The late night events were the laser light programme and the computerized fireworks display. There were fireworks from China and Japan. For an hour I witnessed the grandest fireworks in my life.

On Sunday, 1st July, celebrating the main Mass at St. Mark’s, I noticed a television crew at their task in the packed church. Later I was told that it was the CNN crew at a special feature on Idaho on the bicentennial day. As I was watching a T.V. programme on the U. S. Independence day, I found a clipping of myself celebrating Mass. I picked up my camera to have it clicked for my records.

The only regret I had during my U.S. tour was my inability to watch the World Cup Football in Italy. Football, soccer as they call,  is not a popular game in the U.S. and hardly anyone is interested in it. I was in search of someone who loved the game. Soon, I found my football buddy—George Steinbeck, a German, local manager of a beer company. He was crazy after the matches in the true German spirit. He made it a point to pick me up to join him watch the game as his American wife and kids never liked the game. For George, football took him to his German roots. He and his family migrated to the United States some 30 years ago. Though American by citizenship, he was a typical German in his football enthusiasm. It is indeed great entertainment to watch George whenever Germany played. I sat far from him to avoid his affectionate German hug when ever his team scored. George was a picture of joy when in the finals between Germany and Argentina, Germany won by a solitary goal in the penalty shoot-out. He  was so ecstatic that he grabbed me and almost squeezed the breath out of me. Watching George during the game was more thrilling than the game itself.

Ron Wekerle, the man with an exquisite moustache, was the young Associate Pastor of St. Mark’s. He was a very nice and affectionate guy. In fact, Ron introduced me to everything American. All he knew of India was about Bengal tigers and Mother Teresa. Coming to know of my Indian origin everyone’s usual question was, “Do you know Mother Teresa?” They were edified to know that I had met her and had a picture with her. I got it duplicated and distributed to my friends. They all took it home like a rare memento. I realized I became a rare celebrity too—a person who met Mother Teresa—the saint of the gutters. Someone remarked, “The picture looks very poetic.” I kept pondering on the phrase “poetic picture”. Can there be poetic pictures? Years back, during a Literature seminar in my University, I had heard the poet Shiv K. Kumar recite his poem in honour of Mother Teresa.

Pondering on the picture I penned my tribute to her:

The Saint and I stood

Side by side,

A saintly touch,

A Godward motion;

A mystic experience

Of a Saint on earth.

But has it transformed me

To be like her,

Whom I admire?

We had been clicked together.

May this togetherness

Lead me to my

Existential purpose,

To love Him,

Who lives and loves.

It was weekend for Ron and he was packing his things in a hurry into his car. Taking his tennis racket I said, “It looks so cute.” “It was given to me by Hemingway.” “Who? Ernest Hemingway? The novelist?”   “No, by his nephew.” I was inquisitive to know more about the Ron-Hemingway connection. “We come from the same place—Sun Valley, Idaho.”  “How far is it from here?” I asked. “A couple of hours,” he said. I was resolute in my desire to visit the place. When Ron returned from the weekend he got everything arranged with Deacon Ralph to take me to Hemingway’s Sun Valley and Hailey, the birth place of Ezra Pound.

Ralph was a great friend to me. He used to take me out every now and then for a ride on his huge Yamaha motorbike. But our joyful ride came to an abrupt stop when Jan, the secretary of St. Mark’s,  intervened. I overheard them talk one day. “Ralph, please don’t take Sebastian out on your reckless bike.” Ralph was quite a dare-devil biker,  but was very sure on wheels. I used to caution him, scared of his top speed. I was afraid Jan might sabotage our trip. So we didn’t say a word about our weekend plans to her. All I did was to keep away from  her for the rest of the week. Somehow she smelt a rat and the secret was out from Ron. She gently told Ralph, “Be careful when you ride to Sun Valley.” I was glad she didn’t arrange for me to go with someone else as Ralph was such a wonderful friend to me. Jan is such a  great woman, so concerned and personally interested in the welfare of each and everyone in the Parish. People loved her.

It was Sunday 21 July; at crack of dawn we set out on our memorable trip to Sun Valley.

As we passed through Idaho City, I stopped to take a picture of

the sign board: “Welcome to Historic idaho city”:

see : ♦Basin that produced more gold than all Alaska

♦Oldest Masonic hall west of the Mississippi ♦First Catholic Church for all the people in Idaho ♦Boise Basin Museum ♦First odd fellows hall in Idaho ♦Historic Territorial Penitentiary ♦Picturesque gold rush cemetery And many other places of interest♦ Population: 15,000

I knew I was in the cowboy country and was eager to observe everything connected with the gold rush portrayed in the cowboy movies. Following the discovery of gold in the second half of the 19th century the site for Boise city was chosen located at the crossroads of the Oregon trail leading to the gold mines. Boise is derived from the French word which means “wooded”. It is said that in the early days the Boise River used to be lined with a lot of trees giving freshness to it in that wilderness. When Statehood was given to Idaho, Boise become its capital. But even today it remains deserted and very thinly populated.

My interest led me to witness one of their typical games: Rodeo. It was a recollection of Glenn Campbell’s rodeo song I always loved. Reaching Hailey, the birthplace of the poet Ezra Pound, we searched for a long time asking people the whereabouts of the house where Pound was born. Finally we traced it to find the present inmates rather hostile. A lady came and opened the door reluctantly and responded to our question indifferently. She summed up her thoughts saying, “We have nothing to do with Ezra Pound.” We came away after taking a photograph of the bronze plate:

The Birth Place of EZRA POUND THE POET October 14 1885

The place looked rather romantic with weed growing wild in front of the house surrounded by a cluster of pines. During the ride Ralph began to talk about his exploits. He was one of the pilots who took part in the Vietnam war. He had agonising stories to narrate but I cut him short. Coming to more personal things.  His wife Patty is paralysed and bedridden. Ralph looks after her like her guardian angel. But in his brokenness,  he has immersed himself in the parish life as a permanent deacon. It gives him fulfilment ministering to people in need, especially those sick and lonely. Ever with a smile on his face, he continues his ministry bringing joy and solace to many.

Reaching Sun Valley, the first stop was at the Big Wood River, visiting the spot where Hemingway allegedly shot himself in 1961. It is the riverside where he went fishing. That was also a place he frequented on his hunting trips.

The visit to the Hemingway Records was truly enriching as the librarian was very cooperative in letting me go through all the records. We were shown the Super-8 film on the funeral of the novelist. Being a Catholic, he was given a Church burial by the local Catholic priest.

But in those days suicide cases were not buried in the Church which resulted the  Local Ordinary place the  priest under sanction. I had the opportunity of meeting this priest, retired and living in Boise.

Next we went in search of the monument in honour of the novelist. The inscription on the bronze plate read: “Best of all he loved the fall, the leaves yellow on the cotton woods,  leaves floating on the trout streams and above the hills,  the high blue windless skies… now he will be a part of them for ever.” Ernest  Hemingway—idaho—1939

We proceeded further to the cemetery where his mortal remains were laid to rest in 1961.  I sat by the tomb and felt a sense of achievement—I had come closest to the great novelist—the nearest I could reach—his tomb. It was a dream come true.

The Inscription read:

MILLER ERNEST HENINGWAY July 21, 1899-July 2, 1961

I was fortunate that I could visit the places associated with this great novelist whose literary influence I have always deeply cherished. His simple childlike writing is captivating. His writings always provided the reader with a direct experience. Besides being a writer of the lost generation, his varied experiences as a fisherman, hunter and bullfight enthusiast have been recorded in all that he wrote. I salute this champion of the American Dream.

 Golden Poet

pat russell served as an associate pastor at st. mark’s, Boise.

Pat was a disabled priest who agonized daily in his painful disease. He spent most of his time in his room, reading and writing. He enjoyed talking to me as I made it a point to visit him some time daily. We became very close as he shared all his pain and agony. Pain has been a part of his life since he was born with osteogenesis  imperfect – a brittle bone disease. Many with this disease die during early childhood because their bones do not develop. His bones break very easily. Complications of the disease include curvature of the spine and various internal problems. The disease itself is untreatable. Doctors can only treat the symptoms. As an adolescent, Pat had to deal with the same stresses as other teenagers – being self-conscious, trying to fit in. But he also had to deal with his stunted growth illness and missing a lot of school. It was his disease that brought about a “real turning point” in his life of faith when he was a teenager.

At one point, he had to go to Shriners Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City for surgery. “That was the first time I had been exclusively defined according to my disabilities,” he said. “Before, I had always been treated like everybody else and included in everything. There, I was away from home, family, friends and Church. That is when I realized how important my faith was to me and my relationship with God. While in the hospital people used to challenge me in my faith asking me how I was able to get through all my suffering and smile all the same. I had to describe to them what my faith meant to me and describe my relationship with God.”

After high school he chose to attend the Boise State University before going to the Seminary. There he would encourage others, interested in priesthood,  to become involved with a whole range of organizations and activities, that would help develop their talents. He could bring all that with him into priesthood. He also brings his disabilities to priesthood. “I think in a lot of ways, because I am weak, God is strong. From, I don’t know how young, I remember my parents teaching me two prayers. One was for acceptance with strength of whatever happens in my life. The second was that I may always be a witness to God’s love in every situation whether I am well or ill. My disabilities have forced me to be more introspective and learn the importance of dependency and trust in God.”

I found Pat always busy with work despite his painful illness. He spent much of his time counselling people who came to him. He also wrote poems, short stories and plays. People often told him that the way he dealt with his illness was an inspiration. But sometimes he got tired of being an inspiration and considered it a blessing to suffer. “What has pain meant to me? I realize how blessed is the gift of life and how tenuous that cord of life is. You respect life in all of its forms and at all times. In the midst of all this junk going on in my life, all the pain, there is so much good that accompanies it. The charity of other people. The strength to cope up and the belief that things will get better. I have no fear of death. I’m certain death is not the end of life.”

Several times Pat had appeared in newspapers and the media network. This has given strength to thousands who suffer from illness and pain. It is an apostolate of mercy that Pat continues through his life. He gave me the following articles of features published by news media.

  • Decision for Priesthood not made in vacuum: by Colette Cowman, Idaho Register, May 9, 1986.
  • Young priest fights pain with faith, service: by Colleen Lamay in the Idaho Stateman, February, 17, 1987
  • Pain helps priest see meaning in life: by Rod Gramer, The Stateman, April 3, 1988.

He is acclaimed a Golden Poet of  America and was awarded several times by the World of Poetry—an Annual Poetry Competition in Las Vegas. Pat in his generosity gave me permission to publish several of his poems for the benefit of the readers.

To be Continued… see article 2