Tuesday, October 21, 2008

For my father on this his 51st Birthday

Dale Harrison Taylor always seemed larger than life to me. I think I grew up believing that he was the Indiana Jones of the Amazon. Dad doesn't tell stories on himself, but there are stories that have followed him his whole life. We loved to hear him talk about growing up in the jungle, fishing around the piranhas and the boas. We believed him when he said that he could navigate the waters of the Amazon in a canoe - we had seen him jump from a rock face to a tree nearby, just to see if he could do it. Dad made fire without matches, performed rudimentary surgery on wounded neighbors who lived too far from a hospital to get medical care, skinned animals, delivered babies, taught through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in an unwritten language that no white man spoke better. He challenged his four children to soccer games that he always won.

But his accomplishments in "civilization" are the feats that have made my father the man that I deeply respect today. His acts of bravery outside of the jungle have made him real to me. My father turned his back on his magnum opus to save his family. He risked the thing he was made to do to confess the thing he most feared. Every day he chooses to don the collar and the dress shoes. Every day he crafts his opus, adding note and crescendo with every new trial, every word rightly spoken, every defense made for people who need him to speak for them. In a world far away from canyon sermons and the gospel's first tellings, Dad preaches in yet another rare language - the language of patient hope, of joyful service, of gentle kindness to this particular hillside's forgotten people. I see this. And I love him.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I am not

But after this weekend, I have sung his songs 5 times at different weddings.
This last one was a blast. Congratulations Courtney and Levi!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A it is

Chapter 6

"Oh, I have some food to deliver to some needy families at the wharf and I'd like you two to join me."

The wharf. He just as easily could have said "the pit of despair." I was struck with a knee quaking terror. I had not been back to the water line since my father's timely introduction to organized crime. This was unacceptable. But before I could gain my composure to protest, Frankie was dragging me out into the sunlight and walking me home.

All during the following school day I dreaded the final bell. I scribbled life jackets on all my school notes. I grew steadily more agitated as each class ate speedily through the rotations of the clock. Frankie met me outside as the blustery afternoon embraced a gray and darkening sky line. I willed my legs to keep up with my friend as we made our way to the church.

Father Filipepi had organized the preparation of two warm meals that were designated for two separate families in the parish. Frankie and I held paper sacks that emanated warm delicious smells. But even the heat from freshly baked dinner rolls couldn't warm my hands or the knot in my stomach. Try as I might I could not keep my eyes from staring at the black water that peaked from underneath the planks of the wharf as I walked behind Frankie. It lapped at the pylons, splashed on my shoes, grabbed at me in my imagination as it rose and fell under my feet. And precisely because I was looking down so intently, I didn't see the uneven surface in front of me. With a sudden jolt I felt my toes catch behind me as my body continued forward. I lost hold of my paper sack, I felt the hard planks against my side, the sound of Frankie calling my name sounded far away, and I hit the water with a splash. I thought I saw Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. Almost without thinking I began to paddle with my hands and feet. Dark frigid water swirled around me, pulling at my clothes. I could see the dock at intervals as I came in and out of the water and I could see people shouting and pointing. And then an incredible thing happened. I stood up. My body felt incredibly heavy as my knees straightened and I discovered that well over three fourths of my frame was out of the water. I was standing in a foot of water, planted, dripping, in the seam of the sea.

I drew my hands to my face. I touched my lips to living finger tips. I blew a kiss to the lapping waves. And I walked to my friend and the priest.

Monday, October 13, 2008

a wins

Chapter 5

Frankie wasted no time. Perhaps it was the use of his full name that gave him the extra gall, but without answering the question, he swung his fist in the direction of the Father's face.

Do you know the experience of having a moment play in slow motion? I watched the swing of Frankie's fist for hours, rushing through the air like Japanese anime. I remember thinking that perhaps living in terror of the shoreline was better than premeditated violence against a man of the cloth. But there I was, watching it happen. I saw the knowledge of impending disfigurement dawn in Father Filipepi's eyes. I saw Frankie's seasoned upper-cut connect with the priest's chin. I perceived with some surprise that Father Filipepi was laughing. . . Laughing? Yes, rubbing his jaw line and laughing, in fact wiping tears of mirth from his cheeks. Frankie and I looked at each other bewildered.
"Oh, by all the saints, that was a surprise!" the priest choked out between fits of hilarity. "Not often do I get the pleasure of such a greeting, my young delinquents!" And he sat down in a heap on the pew, slapping his knees and weezing.
I think Frankie was overcoming with some difficulty a disappointment in the effect that his fist had produced. I found my tongue more quickly,
"Father, please forgive us. You have to understand. Frankie had to do it. Mr. Lanski won't let us be friends if he thinks Frankie is going soft and this was the only way we could prove that he wasn't. Oh, please don't send us to Hell." This speach sent the priest into another round of knee slaps and laughter. It was some time before Father Filipepi had recovered his composure.
"My, my, that does seem like a reasonable plan. I certainly haven't felt so invigorated in some time. . . Rosie and Francisco, I know you meant well and certainly some penance will suffice to cover this heinous crime. In fact, if you promise to come by tomorrow to help me after school, I will personally speak with Mr. Lanski and clear up any confusion. Perhaps this minor scratch on my chin could be somewhat persuading." The priest winked and for the first time in days I felt as if I could breathe again. We had accepted the proposal and were walking through the church door into the crisp fall afternoon when Frankie turned and asked what the Father had in mind for us to do for him the following day.

a.) "Oh, I have some food to deliver to some needy families at the wharf and I'd like you two to join me."

b.) "Well, I have a substantial list of mothers who have come to me concerned about their boys being beaten up at school and I thought you two could help me visit and comfort them with your beautiful story of repentance."

c.) "Rosie, your father has informed me of his desire to leave his life of crime. I would like you children to hear what he has to say, and perhaps learn from him."

Monday, October 6, 2008

option c

Chapter 4

"Frankie, would you fight whoever I asked you to?"

Frankie stopped his retreat. Black hair shiny and worn like a helmet from the peak of his forehead to his collar, Frankie gave me his toughest look. "Ah, Rosie. Don't get me in trouble again, but you know I would." I sized up my friend in that moment, noting his 14 year old attempt at facial hair, his arms too long for his torso, the scuffle marks on his trousers left over from the day's skirmish. I wasn't overly optimistic, and for the second time, opened my mouth against my better judgement.
"Well, I just wondered if maybe you wouldn't just for me, and because I specifically ask you to, see if you couldn't fight Father Filipepi?"
"What!?! Rosie, your kiddin me! The priest? Don't you know what happens to people who hit priests? Ah, no way, you're nuts!" And Frankie turned to go.
"No, wait, Frankie, wait. Listen for a second. You know your father won't let us be friends, and you know that means my father won't let us neither. But the whole reason your father don't like me is because I take you to Mass. Just listen. What if you hit Father Filipepi and then your old man won't think you are getting soft and maybe you and I can be friends? C'mon, Frankie. For me?"

It seemed like a good plan at the time. The last thing I wanted was for my father to leave the mob. He would certainly go back to sailing and my worst nightmares still included visions of the shoreline opening its black mouth to slurp me in. Our plan was formed and not even my father's voice in my head could dissuade me, "Rosie, you know I don't speak my mind, Rosie (pause for moustache twirl). But never, never, ever hit a priest."

We decided to stage the fight the next day. Frankie and I stopped in at the church after school and we sat quietly on the pew, waiting in the coolness of the building for Frankie's turn to confess. I sat nervously repeating my Hail Mary's, trying to ignore the canon ball in my stomach at the thought of what we were about to do.

"Ah, Francisco. Good to see you, son." Father Filipepi's voice broke our agitated silence. "And Rosie, welcome. What can I do for my two favorite sinners this afternoon?"

a) Frankie wasted no time. Perhaps it was the use of his full name that gave him the extra gall, but without answering the question, he swung his fist in the direction of the Father's face.

b) I had opened my mouth to answer when heavy footsteps approached us from behind. I knew with a profound dread exactly who it was before Father Filipepi said, "Mr. Lanski, what a surprise!"