The other night when I was invited to lead prayers at a Chuukese wake, I thought I knew what to expect. First of all, the viewing was not for a single person, but for two young men–first cousins, as it happens, who died violent deaths. The two youths, one of them just 18 and the other in his early 20s, died of gunshot wounds to the head, after another young man, who was hit in the face with a slingshot, caught up with them and killed them both. Who started the trouble? The shooter said that one of the Chuukese did. Who knows? Maybe the court will clarify all this in the course of time. But that evening my job was not to determine responsibility for the crime; it was to comfort the families of these two young men.
Against all expectations, Ron Sams departed from us for a better life on June 27. Most of us thought of the man as timeless, one untouched by aging. I suppose in later years his hair greyed and thinned a bit, but when you looked at the man you wondered if he would ever grow old. Ron’s spirit seemed just as impervious to old age as his body. His enthusiasm even in his 80’s reminded you of the quality that endeared him to so many in his younger days. Ron Sams was a boy scout in the best sense of that term–one of three Eagle Scouts working in Micronesia in the 1980s, with Dan Mulhauser and Tom Smith being the two others.
A couple of nights ago I attended a wake for a Pohnpeian youth who had been stabbed to death two days earlier. It happened in a drunken fight here on Guam outside the Hemlani Apartments–a low-end unit situated right next to what looks like might be the island dump. The Hemlani Apartments have made the front page of the local newspaper quite a few times over the past year, usually because of some minor crime or drunken brawl.
Dan Berrigan may have acquired his fame as a peace activist, but I first heard of him as an inspiring high school teacher and budding poet–but that was in 1956 long before most Americans knew where Vietnam was. A couple of my new friends, teenagers who had entered the Jesuits just as I had, boasted about Dan as their teacher at Brooklyn Prep.
Less than a month ago, on January 18, we gathered in a church in Kaneohe, Hawaii, to be with Taka Alphons and Pat Billington as they solemnized their marriage after 30 years of life together. It was clearly a touching moment for them, with joy radiating from their faces, and for all of their friends who were there to cheer them on. We already knew that Taka and Pat would leave Hawaii two days later for California where Taka was scheduled to have a heart transplant.
Paul spent much of his adult life in Yap doing parish ministry, but with so little fanfare that many Yapese wouldn’t have been able to tell you much more about him other than that he was a priest. He was quiet, something of a church mouse, unless he was riled. But if you made friends with him, you had a friend for life. For most of his life he smoked a pipe. Sometimes the only way you could tell he was around was the curl of pipe smoke from his room.
New York! The Big Apple! “The city that never sleeps,” as Sinatra sang. But I can’t say, along with Sinatra, that “it’s my kind of town.” Traffic noise and horns honking in place of church bells. Not very many hellos on the street here. Where have all the palm trees gone? For that matter, what have happened to all my friends? (Relax. They’re just half a world away.) Read More