Another Peek at the Past

One moment I remember where I felt like I belonged was after I had my first visit with the director of the graduate program in the philosophy department at Loyola University in Chicago.  It was late August of 1982.  I had driven over from Detroit the day before, with all of my worldly possessions packed into a slightly aging 1975 Mercury Monarch, purchased for $2,350 cash in 1980 from money I saved while working in the basement vault of the National Bank of Detroit.  My parents were generous enough to give me free room and board while I worked for a year and a half, a transition time from a brief but beautiful life as a young religious man in a college seminary to a new life, a life filled with who knows what, but at least beginning with finishing my college education.

The bank job was a time when I didn’t really have to be burdened by the pain and sorrow of no longer being part of the religious life, whatever that was, to be free, to be free-floating, to take what felt like being adrift and see if it couldn’t feel like something else, something satisfying, something fun.  I experienced a miserable depression when I first came back to Detroit, miserable that the door to the religious life was permanently closed, stunned and no clue what to do next, so dazed and confused that I thought maybe God wanted me to be an accountant, that I should sign up with the Detroit College of Business and get to work on the business degree.  I was in bed for three days, didn’t get up, slept or didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t talk with anyone, not even the sorts of little internal conversations I have with myself today to keep me from falling on a knife.  But three days of such a black hole was about all I could stand—maybe out of sheer boredom, I finally got up.

I was twenty-one years old.  I started looking at the want ads to see if any of the banks in town were hiring.  I think I remember thinking something of the old bank robber’s response to people who asked him why he robbed banks:  “’Cause that’s where the money is.”  To be in the world, not just to survive but to live, to flourish, one needs money, and lots of it.  So, having a job where the money is might lend itself, I thought, to gaining wealth (what people now like to call ‘financial independence’).  After about a month of reading the ads, going to banks, filling out applications, giving them resumes (the only thing more pathetic than resumes from applicants with no previous work experience are resumes from ex-seminarians with no previous life experience), NBD decided to take a chance on me and hired me as a currency teller for their afternoon (4:00 pm to midnight) work shift.

Dad Surprised Me

It was after Mom died, and before Dad died, that I was riding in the car with Dad, where to now I cannot remember.  But we were going over some old philosophical ground, I think, chatting a bit about the importance of reason and logic in our lives, in his life as an electrical engineer, in my life as a philosopher.  Of course we loved logic and reason—this was part of our great European heritage.  We agreed that it seemed to be a perfectly Germanic preoccupation to be entranced by the virtues of organization, structure, order.

But I went on to say that it seemed to me that Polish people weren’t all that much different, that they too seemed to have a special gift for logic and order as among life’s higher values.  And here Dad really surprised me.  With more enthusiasm than I remembered about him in a long time, he robustly said, “Poles are LOVERS!”  And we both laughed.  I was really glad to hear him say this.  I really wish he had done this a whole lot more.  Maybe we were both finally in a place where it was okay to present the idea of love in all its connotations (eros as well as agape).

We didn’t tease any more out of this particular moment, but a more significant moment I cannot find.  It signaled to me what I suspected about my Dad and my Mom all my life, that at bottom, they were both sensual, sexual beings, where the physical was only the beginning of love’s power in their lives, in their family’s life.  Maybe the Church (that is, their beliefs about their Church) didn’t let them talk about this in any way that would be both good and holy, so they let their actions speak instead of words.  Until, of course, Dad surprised me.