Christmas 2011

As you may know, I’ve been in New York for the past year–working for several months at our Jesuit weekly magazine, America, before moving to Long Island to begin a stint of pastoral work in our parish at Oceanside. The parishioners here are warm and welcoming–and so made my transition much easier. But they’re also transplants from Brooklyn and rather old. So we often chat about the old Brooklyn Dodgers and the traumatic day the decision was announced that the team would move to LA. You have to love the people here. The other day one of the parishioners brought me a pair of lined winter boots, thus capping off a large winter wardrobe provided over the past year by family and friends. Another man, a warm and gregarious Italian, looked me in the eye and told me not to worry. “You have a family here, Father,” he said. “You belong to us now.”

Still, you won’t be surprised to hear that every morning I wake up with thoughts of Micronesia, and it’s the last thing I think about before falling asleep. When people ask how I’m doing, my usual reply is “Fine, but I’m terribly homesick.” But why wouldn’t a person be after spending his whole adult life in the islands? People here in the US–blood family, Jesuit family and friends–have been wonderfully supportive, but the past year reminds me of my experience back in 1966 when I returned to the US after my first three years in Chuuk. I felt out of place, my head turned backwards, and I found myself missing even the fried Spam and the inch-thick pancakes I used to be fed when visiting other islands in the lagoon. Happily, I expect to return to the islands next summer, although I imagine that by then someone else will have replaced me at MicSem.

Meanwhile, there have been projects that fill the idle hours even as they keep attention focused on the islands in a productive way. Making Sense of Micronesia is one. It’s a book I wrote that tries to explain the oddities of island life to those who know nothing about it. It tries to show that island culture is a logical outgrowth of certain premises, not just a hodgepodge of weird customs. It should appear early this coming year, courtesy of University of Hawaii Press. Another forthcoming publication is a monograph on Pacific Island economies that East-West Center will produce. It tries to offer a realistic appraisal of what island economies can be expected to do in the future. We’re also doing the final edit on “When Spirits Roamed,” a one-hour video documentary on pre-christian religions in the islands.

All those were last year’s projects. This year’s crop features a survey of Micronesian migrants to the US (there are about 50,000 of them) that is being sponsored by the FSM Government. In addition, I’m helping to put together a historical display for Yap next summer during a homecoming week for those Yapese who have moved abroad.

Thankfully we survived 11/11/11, giving us reason to believe that we might make it through 2012, the year that in Mayan reckoning is predicted to be the end of it all. If we get over the hurdle, I expect to be writing you around 12/12/12 wishing you the usual Christmas blessings–but from balmy latitudes and surrounded by coconut trees.

My thanks to all of you for your wonderful support in what has been far from the easiest year of my life. My prayer is that the coming year will bring all of us the peace and freedom of spirit that we all need to negotiate the rough parts of our life journey.

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About the author

Francis X. Hezel, SJ
Francis X. Hezel, SJ

Francis X. Hezel, SJ, is a Jesuit priest who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963. At different times he has served as high school teacher, school administrator, pastor, and regional superior to the Jesuits of Micronesia. He spent thirty years directing the Micronesian Seminar, a non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Pohnpei, Micronesia. He has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also written several books on Micronesian history, including The First Taint of Civilization, Strangers in Their Own Land, and The New Shape of Old Island Cultures. His most recent book, Making Sense of Micronesia: The Logic of Pacific Island Culture, is available through University of Hawaii Press.

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