Happy Labor Day!

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Image credit: Labor by Saturnino Herran, 1908, shamelessly pinched from J.R.'s Art Place
Click to enlarge.

I like John Herreid's commentary on this painting. 

Herran places not labor itself in the foreground, but the family. The wife has stopped at the work site with a basket containing bowls and food and drink. The father has paused in his work to greet her and to stroke his child's hair. The baby is the only figure who makes eye contact with the viewer, as if to relay the message: this is the meaning of labor.

Work is not the unfortunate result of the Fall, but an invitation to man to complete the work of creation, in cooperation with God. It might be worth revisiting Laborem Exercens , John Paul the Great's encyclical on the meaning of work. Or, for a popular exploration, here's a free 8-part series on The Gospel of Work from Andreas Widmer & Luke Burgis, among others.



 

Just Like That, I'm In the Mood for a Road Trip

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Image credit:  "Gas Station," 1940, Edward Hopper 

University is about to be in session, it's going to be a packed year, and I'm basically ready for it (now that the boys have left for university and the house feels abandoned). But, man, one look at this painting and I could do another road trip. 
 

With Thanks to David McCullough

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Image credit: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File


I happen to be reading David McCullough's Path Between the Seas right now, and have been remembering as I read how much pleasure I've received over the years from reading him -- and thinking with some angst that, actuarial tables being what they are, we would soon lose him.  So I was not surprised, but no less saddened, to learn of his passing earlier this week at age 89. 

I took up the story of the building of Panama Canal both because McCullough's a wonderful storyteller, and because of an interesting observation he made about the difference between American and French engineers and their relationship to nature. I have been trying off and on without success for a year to find the speech in which I first read the remark. I could swear I wrote about it once here at the blog, but if I did I didn't title or label it anything that springs to mind now and my internet searches have turned up diddly. That is until McCullough's passing this week, when, in remembrance, someone posted it from Imprimis (I should have known.) 

You should read that speech on knowing who we are from knowing history. It's a charming reflection on the work of the historian, and also sage advice about studying it -- and what we do and don't have the right to judge.

What I want to do here is just say thank you to him. Some friends of mine were chatting elsewhere on the internet the other day about which of his baker's dozen of books on American history were our favorites and what we loved about them.  We all love 1776 and think it bears re-reading. McCullough does such a wonderful job there and in all his work of doing what he describes in that Imprimis speech linked above:

...[I]t seems to me that one of the truths about history that needs to be portrayed—needs to be made clear to a student or to a reader—is that nothing ever had to happen the way it happened. History could have gone off in any number of different directions in any number of different ways at any point along the way, just as your own life can. You never know. One thing leads to another. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Actions have consequences. These all sound self-evident. But they’re not self-evident—particularly to a young person trying to understand life.

Nor was there ever anything like the past. Nobody lived in the past, if you stop to think about it. Jefferson, Adams, Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, ”Isn’t this fascinating, living in the past?“ They lived in the present just as we do. The difference was it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out for us, they didn’t either. It’s very easy to stand on the mountaintop as an historian or biographer and find fault with people for why they did this or didn’t do that, because we’re not involved in it, we’re not inside it, we’re not confronting what we don’t know—as everyone who preceded us always was.

There's of course John Adams, which for a while everyone knew because of the Paul Giamatti portrayal for HBO. (I partly read it and partly listened to it on tape one summer when I repainted our kitchen. It was excellent company for monotonous labor and kept me at it in marathon timing because I wanted to keep listening. Here and here are two posts contemporaneous from when I was read/ listening in 2011.)

Interestingly, though we each appreciate the most famous presidential biographies, we each had "smaller" favorites. One friend loved The Great Bridge, about the Roebling family and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Another loved his book on The Johnstown Flood.  "Each brought unique insight and knowledge to my world," a friend wrote, "so many things I'd not have known about: identification of mosquitoes in Path Between the Seas; Roosevelt's childhood with asthma; the description and accuracy in Johnstown Flood." 

Adams and 1776  might be more important, but I think my favorite is The Greater Journey, about American expatriates in France in the 19th century. I learned from it that my education had taught me nothing at all about the 19th century except the American civil war. And I learned about pioneers of art and architecture and medicine (and more about amputation than I really cared to, TBH), and therefore not only about our political, but cultural, development -- and about the human spirit. (Here's a good interview with McCullough about the book.)

I also learned something truly useful from Mark Twain's Paris salon. Many evenings Twain threw his rooms open to the most interesting French and American notables, and sometimes they overstayed their welcome. When Twain had had enough, he would clear his throat and ask in Stentorian tone, "So. What is art?" And folks would take the hint and go home. A witty, and very useful, trick! 

For that, for the delight of knowledge, for many wry or poignant observations, for hours of reading pleasure, and for so much to think about, I am grateful. 


Prufrock, Call Your Office

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The latest internet kerfuffle makes me at last realize why eating a peach might be a fraught decision. 

Must say, I cannot relate. In our house, we buy the Peach Truck or local peaches to enjoy and after I make a pie, then no one eats the rest until I have to threaten: No one is eating anything else in this house until these peaches are eaten so they don't go bad! 

God's In His Heaven...

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This is how I know God loves me and wants me to be happy. 
 

It Was The Greatest Thing

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 On this day in 1928, the Chillicothe Baking Company began selling sliced bread.  A convenience we take for granted, but at one point during WWII the government tried to ban it! 

Sweet Land of Liberty

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Image credit: Independence Day, Andrew Wyeth, shamelessly pinched from here

The first post-Roe Independence Day, and I'm feeling more hopeful than I have in a while. Not optimistic, mind you, but hopeful! If that great and wicked spell can be broken, so can others. 

I'm not sure why I'm telling you this because I don't expect anyone to understand,  but yesterday at Mass, our genuinely beautiful choir sang America the Beautiful as one of the post-communion hymns. As I've confessed previously, I can't sing that song, especially the later verses, without tearing up, so when it happened it didn't take me by surprise. 

But I was completely overcome with unexpected weeping when we sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic as our recessional hymn. I'm not positive this meaning was intended (though knowing the choir director I think it was), but it felt like a comment on the Dobbs decision, and in an instant, every bit of joy at finally attaining the long-awaited destruction of that wicked legal fiction, every bittersweet memory of all the heroes of the movement who didn't live to see the day, all the sense of alienation from pastors and erstwhile pro-lifers who couldn't muster a bit of happiness or gratitude for the decision came pouring out. I couldn't stop. It was embarrassing! But cathartic. 

Spent yesterday with some old political philosophers and patriots in a small town on the water where they had a great parade and fireworks, and that was also good for the soul. 

For your Independence Day reading: 

Patriotism as A Virtue.  "John Adams calls us to celebrate our country by prayer, parades, and pyrotechnics. I’m with Adams."

My now-perennial posting of Peter Schramm's Born American, but in the Wrong Place


Oh, and: the first tomato of summer!  Just a cherry tomato, but the promise of things to come!