We live in a pleasant neighborhood. The 100 year old houses are nice and the excellent public schools attract young couples. I don’t understand how they can afford to buy here. Maybe mom and dad (back in Iowa) are helping out. Or maybe the pay scales of young professionals have been radically adjusted since the 1960’s.
We bought decades ago when the neighborhood was ‘redlined’. Houses were cheap, and ‘cheap’ was important to a school teacher and newly admitted lawyer. Friends and acquaintances bought other cheap houses nearby—and similar sorts of people bought near them, and it wasn’t long before the neighborhood became a warmbed of what Americans call ‘liberals’ and Brits call ‘conservatives’ i.e., the sort of people who know better than you.
About a decade earlier some clever fellow had invented ‘the pill’ and, although it took awhile to work out the implications, by the time we arrived on the west coast, Californians were inventing ‘women’s liberation’ and ‘sex for fun’.
I missed this opportunity (if such it was) for in those days I wore black wing-tips and worried about my partnership prospects. But we all heard about California, and if my male friends favored the ‘sex for fun’ component, women were intrigued with ‘liberation’. I don’t know why—they already lived in a progressive neighborhood, held contrary opinions, signed petitions, voted, and organized cooperative nursery schools. You might have supposed that was enough, but, as one of them once told me, “You’ll never know what’s ‘enough’ until you’ve tried ‘too much’.” It wasn’t long before there was a whole lot of nonsense going on.
So I’ve heard. But, prudent nonsense. With birth control.
Which brings me to my point.
Around the corner from our house there is a handsome Catholic Church—with (in those days) a convent for the nuns who taught at the parochial school—and a residence for the priest. I used to catch my bus in front of the church, and for a short while one summer I’d see an ecclesiastical gentleman, about my age, walking around the block.
I am not a believer, but I am polite. I certainly nodded, and perhaps said, ‘Good morning, Father.’ If memory serves, he nodded back. (I will not go so far as to claim an exchange of views.) He wore a grave demeanor. Not because he was worried about his job prospects, for I later discovered he already had a better job than mine, or any job I could have had. He was neither the local priest, nor (as I had supposed) a visiting fireman from Spokane, but the Archbishop himself, living at the rectory while his own place was renovated.
He was thought to be a conservative who toed the John Paul II line—but as I know little about such things, I paid scant attention—and did not even notice when he was made Archbishop of San Francisco, and from thence transported to Rome, where he became a Cardinal, and "Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" which, in happier times was known as the Holy Inquisition.
The high points of my life have gone mostly unrecognized at the time. I have exchanged pleasantries with two different fellows who went from obscurity to become multi-billionaires. I shook hands with Senator Humphrey before he ran for President (although probably not before he thought of it) and I once nodded to someone who has become a Prince of the Church.
Treasure your high points, even if you don't immediately recognize them, It’s just a matter of timing, and who among us has not mis-timed a climax? Think how sad it must be for him. Four hundred years ago his predecessors could have boiled me in oil. Alas for him, he is reduced to scolding nuns. Well, women can be a problem, what with having their own opinions, and one thing and another. You can’t disagree with him there.
And no wonder he looked worried—treading a sidewalk where heathens lurked by the bus stop, in a district where women (some of them almost certainly Catholic) were (almost certainly) practicing birth control even when loving their own husbands, not to speak of anyone else’s.
I see a placid neighborhood of white-painted houses.
Archbishops are not beguiled by appearances.