Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mercy at the Movies

I watched “Manchester by the Sea” again last night and so should you, especially if you’re one of those people who thought it was too depressing, a downer, saaaaad.

I couldn’t disagree more. “Manchester by the Sea” is not only the best picture I’ve seen in the past twelve months (“Moonlight”? Best Picture? Seriously?). It’s also the most Catholic.

I don’t mean that the characters are Catholic, which they are. Lee (“Best Actor” Casey Affleck) reminds his nephew of this fact, adding that, by the way, Catholics are Christians. It’s not only that the plot effectively centers on a Catholic funeral and a Catholic burial.

What makes the film Catholic is its portrayal of mercy. “Manchester by the Sea” was released in the jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 10, Jesus says, “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed.” That’s Lee’s problem in the movie, of course.

The central episode in the movie, and in Lee’s heart forever, is a tragedy set to the music of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor, of which not even “Gallipoli” made better use. It is a tragedy for which Lee feels and, OK, is responsible. Unless you excuse him as an alcoholic, I suppose, one who has a “disease” and is not at fault morally. But I don’t excuse him and, most importantly, neither does he.

Sidebar: One of the striking things about “Manchester by the Sea” is that it is a film about alcoholism that doesn’t advertise the fact.

But so then—like you and me, in ways large and small, pedestrian and tragic, depending—Lee has done things for which he feels guilt, shame, and remorse; and he stays away from his hometown (far away: Quincy) because everyone in Manchester recognizes him and, he thinks, blames him for the events scored with the help of Albinoni.

But what struck me in the last ten or fifteen minutes of the film was the flood of mercy that pours over Lee as he struggles to help his nephew in the wake of his brother’s death. Everyone forgives him. Everyone that matters, anyway: his nephew, his brother, and in the movie’s most heart-breaking scene, his ex-wife.

Fishing frames the movie. In the first scene, Lee fishes with his nephew as a little boy; in the last, the nephew is grown. I wonder if it’s any coincidence that these Catholics are fishermen.

Or that the score includes not only the heavenly Albinoni adagio but also music from Handel’s “Messiah,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light” by Duke Ellington (sung by Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots), and at the end, a heavenly aria from “Cherubin” (Angels) by Jules Massenet.

If your heart isn’t cracked open by this point—well, see the movie again, is my point.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Becoming Old Myself

For thirty years, I have helped old people write their memoirs. Since my thirties, this has been my number-one bread-and-butter occupation.

One insight of my work as a private memoir ghost-writer is that old, or retired, people, have less ego, less push-forward, less need to prove themselves right or prove themselves at all. In general, they have worked with me on their life stories not because they consider themselves important but because they consider their children and grandchildren important, and they want to pass along a few things to these next generations.

Today, I find myself becoming that old guy. Somewhere in my sixties, I have already taken one stab at my own memoir and I now find myself working with a much younger population, who view me as, well, old, or at least older. They are not blind or deluded about this. I am older. (The photo shows me with John, a core member at L’Arche Boston North, with whom I was privileged to travel cross-country recently. With only a few months’ difference, John and I are the same age!)

If you want to realize you’re old, go to work in a L’Arche community where the next youngest in-the-trenches assistant is fifteen years your junior. And after that early-fifty-something there is a steep drop-off to the next age plateau, in the thirties. I was stunned recently to learn that one of my fellow L’Arche assistants—whom I admire—was nineteen. For heaven’s sake!

I think I spent my first year-plus at L’Arche determined that none of these young people was going to outwork me! I beat myself up, working my fanny and feet off. At my most idiotic, I even hungered after a position of leadership, power—I was ambitious! Still!

I thank a retreat at the St. Joseph Retreat House in Milton and a book to which the retreat director steered me for waking me up to my own insanity. The book is by a priest, Richard Rohr. It is titled Falling Upward. Its main theme is that life is lived in two halves, and only the first half is about leadership, power, and ambition.

I referred to this book in my recent post about my father.

I was reminded of all this last night when I had a short but happy-for-me conversation with a fellow assistant. Without betraying the gender, age, or identity of this person, I will say only that the assistant is younger than either of my children.

I had seen throughout the day that the assistant was in some sort of funk. The assistant behaved to me in ways that I might have taken personally, negatively, except I saw the funk and knew that it had nothing to do with me. So near the end of the evening I asked the assistant if s/he was OK.

A simple question that could have been deflected—but I saw my own attitude toward the assistant (sincere liking and concern) and I saw the assistant’s reaction (taking my question seriously). What followed was a brief but, at least for me, satisfying exchange in which the assistant spoke of what was going on, and I made a few comments that I thought were somewhere between doddering and pastoral.

I think the assistant got, and appreciated, “where I was coming from.”

Every day I work on at L’Arche, I see that I need to own my age and whatever fragments of wisdom have become glued to me, like cookie crumbs littering my shirt.

I’m okay with being old.

Monday, June 5, 2017

“L’Arche Across America” — Day 27 — Epilog

It was not the way we drew it up, but it was, as Jane would say, beautiful. Last night after supper I was sharing time at Pat House of L’Arche Boston North when a van pulled up outside. My van. Containing my friends Jane, Doris, and Woody.

The meter on the dashboard read: Trip A / 9,298.6 miles.

The way we drew it up was, six of us would arrive in triumph earlier in the day, at the end of a coast-to-coast, round-trip odyssey, to be greeted by a gigantic celebratory cookout. The six of us were supposed to be the three in the photo above, plus Todd, John, and me.

You read about all that. You read about how we reached Seattle before John took sick, and he and I flew home. Earlier in the day, day 27 on the original itinerary, the three in the picture dropped off Todd at his home west of Boston and deposited the roof rack in the driveway of the kind man who loaned it to us at the beginning of May. Then Jane drove my van through the car wash—three times!—and delivered it proudly back into my care, not a bit worse for wear.

I have regretted since leaving Seattle that I did not stay on board to record the final fifteen days of the journey. But it turns out, Jane took care of that. As I drove her home last night, she confided that she would be polishing up her notes in the next few days, for posting on the L’Arche Boston North web site.

When Jane’s report is posted there, I will link you to it.

Meanwhile, I am happily ensconced at home with two souvenirs to show for “all my trials.” The refrigerator magnets are from Fran and Doris, respectively.

Dear Fran, my buddy pal, joined the odyssey in Los Angeles, for four days, and when she returned to Pat House last week, she kindly brought me a souvenir.

The bear is from Doris, who apparently boosted it from a refrigerator at L’Arche St. Louis and brought it home to my loving care.

The last leg of the 27-day trip on Sunday, June 4, was, mythically enough, from Ithaca to home. Just like Odysseus.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

My Father’s World

My father, David Frelinghuysen Bull, would be 92 this weekend. Yesterday was the anniversary of his birth on June 2, 1925; and if Dad were living, Katie and I would be driving this morning to visit him in Vermont, at the country home he shared with Mom. I would be looking forward to an afternoon of golf with Dad and probably a good long talk, before and after.

My father was a soldier, if not a hero, and war blended with religion in his appreciation of the world. So I treasure a pair of early memories of Dad: weekend visits to Fort Snelling in St. Paul, where he was called to reserve duty, slept in barracks, and marched on parade; and looking up at him every Sunday from a pew, watching his lips proudly voice the hymns, trying to blend my squeaky tenor with his earnest amateur baritone.

When I read more than fifty years later the childhood memories of St. Thérèse of Lisieux attending Mass beside her father, I smiled. “I looked more frequently at Papa than at the preacher,” Therese wrote, “for his handsome face said so much to me.”

In the last year of his life, Dad wrote a memoir with help from his granddaughter. A Protestant all his life, he ended his short book with a reflection on a Catholic practice, one that bridges religion and struggle:

“There have been times in my life when I wondered whether I couldn’t make a good monk. I believe strongly in discipline, though not unquestioning obedience to leadership. I believe that if you’re going to do something, you should try to do it as well as you can and work at it. I believe that satisfaction comes from the struggle of trying to do things well.”

It is easy to see Dad as a monk: close-cropped, straight-shooting, self-effacing, and virginal as he was on his wedding day.

Childhood in Minnesota
By calling out my father as a non-hero, let me be clear that I am not ruling out the possibility that he was a saint instead.

Dad was the fourth and youngest child born to Granddad and Grandma Bull, and like many youngest children, he was coddled by his mother. It is hard to imagine stern old Granddad Bull coddling anyone, but with Grandma’s sartorial guidance, Dad was named “Best-Dressed Boy” at the prestigious Blake School in Hopkins, Minnesota. To his credit, his senior classmates also voted him “Best Boy,” the equivalent of class president.

What Dad amounted to in his father’s eyes mattered most to him, however. There is a very powerful father-son transmission line built into us Bulls. The picture shows my younger brother, David, with Dad and me.

There may also be in the Bull line a sense of primogeniture, which is why it matters that Dad was his parents’ third son, not their first.

Granddad’s first son, Daniel, died in Grandma’s arms just short of his sixth birthday, after being crushed against a wall by a car that had rolled out of control. The second son, my namesake, Webster, came to fill the hero’s boots when the B-17 “Flying Fortress” he was piloting was shot from under him.

By the time Uncle Web died, Dad was on his way overseas to something less than glory. As a grunt in an Army antitank company that moved east with Patton, he later said he was lucky to be posted twenty clicks south of the Bulge. A Panzer would have rolled right over that antitank gun. After the war, as part of the Allied occupation force, Dad suffered his only service injury when a truck rolled over on him. The accident left him with a cranky back but no medal.

After Dad graduated from Yale, he entered the mandatory business apprenticeship at some other company’s expense before Granddad offered him the desk meant for Web at the family firm, Cream of Wheat, based in the Twin Cities. I think that Dad always felt that he had ground to make up in his father’s eyes. An underdog mentality was part of his makeup. He loved the Mets, hated the Yankees.

When we say that a man’s jaw is “set,” we usually think “with determination,” even “with grim determination.” By contrast, my father’s jaw was set in a kind, accepting smile. This combination of set jaw and radiant good will shows in the formal portrait taken in the early 1960s after Cream of Wheat was sold to Nabisco and our family moved from Minnesota to Connecticut, to follow Dad’s career. I think that Dad believed, almost as a shibboleth, that goodwill—of which he had plenty—could carry him anywhere.

From Minneapolis to New York
Dad viewed the 1961 sale of Cream of Wheat, of which he was the last president, as good for the company and especially good for himself. It meant leaving the milling backwaters of the Midwest to conquer the marketing metropolis of New York. His goal was to run not a $30-million one-product company but a multibillion-dollar multinational, the National Biscuit Company. With his father as sponsor, he had risen to a corner office at Cream of Wheat; with the mentorship of Nabisco president, CEO, and chairman Lee Bickmore, Dad’s career flourished at 425 Park Avenue.

But Granddad died in 1970 and Bickmore retired three years later. Five years later, Dad retired from Nabisco, a fifty-three-year-old senior vice president, disappointed. He had been put out to pasture with staff, not line, responsibilities by a more aggressive cadre of executives, and he hadn’t liked it. Superabounding in goodwill, Dad lacked guile or ruthlessness. Finally he may have been too damn nice to win the New York business wars.

Yet David F. Bull was as lucky in his end as in his beginning. Within three years of his departure, Nabisco had merged with Standard Brands; in 1985, the conglomerate was sold to R. J. Reynolds; and in 1988 the combined RJR Nabisco was the target of the biggest corporate takeover to date. The negotiations and sale to LBO mavens Kohlberg Kravis Roberts were immortalized in the book Barbarians at the Gate. By that time, Dad was a comfortably retired gentleman sculptor and rising grandfather, far from any huns. He might have profited financially if he had hung around the office until 63. Richer, he would not have been as happy.

My father’s was a midlife crisis squared. While Mom went back to school and then to work for the first time in her life, Dad found himself out of a job. He tried starting a financial consulting business named Taurus, which failed quietly. So instead of business, my father took up art. Dad had always shown an eye for the human figure, tossing off line drawings on scrap paper—halfbacks in classic stiff-arm pose, ballerinas on pointe. I imagine that this aptitude stemmed from the maternal, well-dressed side of Dad, who always looked turned-out, even while doing yard work, the way Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper did whether playing city statesmen or country sheriffs.

In the decade of the 1980s Dad became a sculptor, modeling human figures in clay and casting the best in bronze. Today I treasure half a dozen bronzes as permanent mementos of his work: a tennis player, an Indian brave, and a German general from the Bismarck era with spiked helmet, jack boots, and riding crop (pictured). His final work was of Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman conferring after the disastrous first day at Shiloh. A man’s man, my father favored manly images.

I came to know my father again and for the first time in the mid-1990s, after his failures in business, successes in sculpture, and first grandchildren. He turned seventy in 1995 and gave himself a legendary birthday party, complete with a DJ and “wigglers.” (Long story: Dad visited a health club and asked the receptionist if she and a friend would don cocktail dresses and wiggle at his party.) From then until the end in 2008, he and I formed a deep bond. He became my best male friend.

I had rebelled against his conservative politics in the late 1960s, heckling him from the anti-war side of the DMZ. I had pursued non-traditional forms of business and religion in ways that must have puzzled, perplexed, and—though he never let on—upset him. But during twenty-five years of neglect—mine of him—my father stood by the front door waiting for my return, like the father of the prodigal son.

Playing golf together
Instead of the front door, I should say rather that Dad stood on the first tee. He had taught me golf at Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata when I was in single digits, but sometime after we moved to Connecticut, I gave up the game. Then in my forties and Dad’s seventies, I took it back up. I did so when my children were just entering grade school and my business of ghostwriting memoirs had developed a stable income stream for our young family.

It felt like a self-indulgence to resume golf when there were so many other demands on my time and our finances were hardly better than month-to-month. Nonetheless, as though possessed by mischief, I began playing nine holes a week and soon augmented that to twenty-seven holes, plus several hours on the driving range and putting green.

In this seemingly pointless detour, you might have missed the most important thing: Golf was my bridge back to Dad. We teed off together countless times in the ten years before his death. The seventy-something gentleman who met me on the tee—always hugging me, still calling me “Boy,” and even sometimes kissing me on the lips, as he had when I was tiny—was not the same man I had left in Connecticut thirty years before. That Dad had measured six feet precisely, the perfect height for a father, I once thought. He had worn his jet-black hair in a perfect wave that he trained at night with a stocking cap. That Dad had a face that was scratchy with black stubble by ten in the morning. That Dad had carried an attaché case and never ever missed the 7:22 from Greenwich to Grand Central.

Now on the tee in the twilight of life, my father’s spine was collapsing toward the sod. He stooped to 5’10” while I towered over him at 6’2”. His full head of hair, still neatly layered, was soft and white. His golf swing, always a thing of beauty, had lost its drive, and before long I was out-hitting him by 20, 40, even 100 yards. It is a sad admission of failure when a male golfer begins using the ladies’ tees, but Dad did that too, before giving up the game entirely in his last two years. Even for him, who had accepted other defeats so gracefully, it was more humiliation than he could bear.

Yet it was in his final years that my father shined as with an aura. He never spoke of his business career, unless sometimes a rueful recollection of Granddad Bull reminded him that there once had been a company named Cream of Wheat. He regularly reviewed his investment portfolio, to assure himself that “if something happened to him,” Mom would be safe and there would be something left over for us kids. But what had amounted to achievement in the first seventy-five years of Dad’s life, including service on the boards of non-profits and quite a bit of sculpting, seemed to fall away from him almost entirely as he approached the end.

By this time, my father had overcome his sense of failure in career and private life. He had successfully navigated the rapids between the first and second halves of life, as described by Richard Rohr in Falling Upward. No longer “stymied in the preoccupations of the first half,” he nevertheless had grown spiritually, as Rohr says, “much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.” He had become an elder. “Our elderly are seldom elders,” Rohr writes. “When they are true elders, we all fall in love with them.” And so we all did with Dad—his children, some of whom had bridled at his disciplinarian behavior when we were young; and especially his grandchildren. My older daughter wears one of Dad’s monogrammed cufflinks on a chain around her neck even today, a decade after his death, as a sort of amulet.

Dad did very little to earn our love; he said little and gave less advice, even when we asked for it. He could most often be found in the armchair in the kitchen, looking up quizzically from his New York Times, at which he often scowled; or on the sofa in front of the TV, patting his Abyssinian cat and watching sports or Fox News. Despite his lifelong conservatism, my father surprised everyone by voting for John Kerry in 2004, although Kerry ran against a man with Yale and Greenwich roots, George W. Bush. Such openness to the new—he considered voting for Obama in 2008, but died six weeks too soon—combined with an acceptance of the past and a hopeful openness toward the future.

The perfect wife
In the second half of life, Rohr notes, “Your concern is not so much to have what you love anymore, but to love what you have—right now.” Dad did this. Although everyone else in the family, including our mother, would agree that my parents’ marriage was rocky at times, my father told me straight out, six months before his death, “You need to know that your mother has been an almost perfect wife to me.” I am convinced that he believed that Anna Cochran “Nan” Ewing was the best choice he had ever made.

In his last months, he lived with a diagnosis of metastasized melanoma, and there were moments when I could see that he was frightened. His vulnerability was palpable. He was not afraid to die, but he was scared of the disease reaching his brain, causing a loss of self-control, memory, and consciousness. The melanoma spared him its worst indignities, and he lived at home in a hospital bed until the eve of his 58th wedding anniversary. Then he was moved to Greenwich Hospital for three days while waiting for a hospice bed to open at Stamford Hospital.

In the hospital I asked Dad if he would like me to write his obituary for him. He said he thought that was a fine idea.

When I read the obituary to him some hours later, he closed his eyes as though falling asleep. No writer likes to bore his audience, so I asked him in mid-read, “Dad? Dad? Are you OK?” “Yeah,” he said. “This isn’t bothering you, is it, Dad?” “No,” he answered with a soft smile, “I kinda like it.”

When I had finished reading, I told him that there was one glaring omission: I had written nothing about his war record. Would he please fill that in? “Oh,” he said, shaking his head, “I don’t think you need to include that. What I did was what all the guys in my generation did. There was nothing special about me.”

In his final months, facing a terminal diagnosis, Dad met with the pastor of his Episcopal church several times. Dad had not been a big fan of this pastor, but in their final conferences, Dad changed his mind about the man. These meetings also made an impression on the pastor. At Dad’s funeral in St. Barnabas Church in Greenwich, he called my father a saint.

That seemed about right.

Why David
My father’s name has been a lifelong mystery to me. Granddad had named his first son Daniel Frank Bull for himself, that much was clear. Uncle Web’s name honored Dr. Webster Merrifield, a Yale man and an early president of the University of North Dakota. Merrifield had married my great-grandmother Elizabeth McBride Bull, when my great-grandfather, George Bull, died too young, in his 40s, when Granddad was only eleven. So he was Granddad’s stepfather.

It is another bit of hallowed family lore that my great-grandfather, George Bull, called his son Dan to his deathbed and told him he was now the man of the family. He charged my grandfather with caring for his mother and his two sisters, Bess and Clara. In years ahead, after studying engineering and building dams, Granddad would take on such greater responsibility, when he was called to Minneapolis to assume the management of the company his father had started in Grand Forks in 1892, Cream of Wheat.

Why then did Granddad not name one of his sons, even the last of them, for his father George? How could he have honored his stepfather, Webster, but ignored the man, his father George, who had started the company he ran so successfully before turning it over to his own son? Instead, when Dad was born twelve years after Daniel, ten after Webster, and four after his lone sister, Rosamond, his parents named him David. You can search the Bull family tree and that of Grandma’s family, the Lelands, and you will find not a single David within three generations of my grandparents.

One hypothesis for the naming of my father has been advanced by family members, and I have a second. Others have suggested that Granddad and Grandma Bull wanted their youngest child to bear the initials of their lost eldest child, Daniel Frank Bull, Jr., in memoriam. David is probably the most common man’s name beginning in D and an obvious substitute for Daniel, even if it wasn’t a Bull or Leland family name. To find a middle name beginning in F, however, my grandparents dug into the history of the Hudson River Valley Bulls, coming up with a long-lost Frelinghuysen.

So then maybe their choice of the name David did have meaning to them. Here’s my hypothesis. My grandparents were observant Methodists, teetotalers who did not allow cards to be played in their house on the Sabbath. They would have heard about the Old Testament David, before and after Goliath, in countless Scripture readings at the Methodist Episcopal Church on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. I suspect that King David is the inspiration for my father’s name.

It fits. The biblical David was his father’s youngest son. When Samuel arrived with a horn of oil at the house of Jesse to anoint the future king of Israel from among Jesse’s sons, Jesse did not even present David to him. Instead, Samuel examined and passed over each of the older seven before asking if Jesse had any other sons. Well, yes, there was David. But he was only a boy, looking after the sheep. Jesse could not imagine that his youngest son might be a leader someday, any more than my grandfather could see his David heading a company.

But Dad, like the great king of 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles, was a soldier and a singer. His favorite hymn was “Onward! Christian Soldiers,” followed closely by “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I fondly remember singing both hymns at his side as he grinned and swayed to the rhythms, fairly dancing before the Lord. This embarrassed me and empowered me at the same time.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Flying with John

By now you know I’m home. At least you do if you’ve been following the on-again, off-again saga of  “L’Arche Across America” in which my dream of six months was derailed in two weeks by the illness of one of our members.

Yesterday, I flew with John home from Seattle, a good decision. It was what needed doing, for his safety and long-term health. Last Thursday, John had a choking incident that may have included aspiration, which carries the risk of pneumonia. The ER doctors weren’t sure. But I was and so was our community leader-in-waiting, Jen, when I suggested it. John needed to come back to his L’Arche community in Haverhill, Mass., and as the closest to him of our traveling party, the obvious accompanier was I.

So that happened.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Turning Homeward with Gratitude

Yesterday, watching my own mini-van pull away from the curb on 15th Avenue in Seattle, pulling away without me and John, I felt sharp pangs of regret.

The “L’Arche Across America” tour, which I had done much to plan and promote and chronicle, was rolling on without me. The circus was leaving town and I wasn’t in it.

(The circus arrived in Portland late yesterday, as the picture proves. Left to right: Todd, Shonda, Doris, and Woody, with L’Arche Portland’s Adam, second from left.)

But today, waking up early at Angeline House in Seattle, where community has been very gracious to John and me, my thoughts are turning homeward with gratitude.

I am sifting through some little lessons granted by two weeks on the road in the company of some remarkable people.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

L’Arche Across America — Day 12 — Hidden Life

On Sunday, May 21, the “L’Arche Across America” van rolls on to L’Arche Portland and from there south to San Francisco and LA, before turning east toward home.

It is a bit hard for me to accept that the van and its story are rolling on without me. It is like knowing that the story of life on earth will continue without me after I am gone.

Following John’s two nights in Seattle’s Virginia Mason Hospital, Thursday and Friday, I agreed on Saturday, with the okay of leadership back home, to return with John to Massachusetts by plane early in the coming week.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

L’Arche Across America — Day 11 — Seattle

Someone is watching over us on this trip, either the Big Fellow Himself or a flotilla of guardian angels. Or both.

Just when we needed a rest, we got it. Just when we needed community, we have been enfolded by it.

We are staying three nights (Thursday thru Saturday) in two homes (Angeline and Shuinota) of L’Arche Seattle, when all along it was our intention to stay only one. And in our neediness, the community has been so hospitable to us, so kind, so good.

In the photo above, I am with Robin and Andrew at the breakfast table in Angeline House. Their kindness and that of so many others in community, beginning with Isaac, who has orchestrated our entire visit with Todd, is deeply appreciated.

The thing is, we were wearing out.

Friday, May 19, 2017

L’Arche Across America — Day 10 — Music

If I don’t write about music, you will not understand our journey. Since leaving Haverhill ten days ago, we have almost never been without music.

Woody, whose knowledge of rock and roll is nothing less than encyclopedic, is our music leader. He brought along a large paper bag full of CDs, and every afternoon one of the CDs comes out, goes into the CD player, and leads us to our next destination.

Top picks on Woody’s music list are anything by the Grateful Dead, as well as Jethro Tull and The Essential Bob Dylan.

Wednesday, on the way into Sea-Tac, we sang loud choruses of “The Times They Are A-Changing” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

L’Arche Across America — Day 9 — Doris

Doris was the first core member I met at L’Arche Boston North, as I wrote a year ago. That was in August 2015 at a picnic in Haverhill. I am only now beginning to understand how providential that meeting was, and how important Doris is to me.

It may not be particularly easy to convince you of Doris’s importance, because as the world usually reckons such things, Doris is not important at all. She lives quietly, often wordlessly on the ground floor of a Haverhill three-decker with her husband Woody, who is also among our travel party.

Doris is not particularly active. She requires a certain amount of personal care at her age and weight and level of health. She does not work outside the home. She does not “add value” to our economy.

But I am coming to think that Doris’s value is beyond estimating. Indulge me while I try to plumb the mystery of this important unimportant woman.