Category Archives: Scenes from a Life

The Two Ways 1946

The figure of two ways or paths is a well-worn trope in religious traditions. The moral pilgrim is confronted with a fork in the path of life. One way represents the way of virtue, an arduous and even dangerous path, but in the end rewarding; the other, the passage to evil, is temptingly attractive but […]

Regular Order 1945

The Novitiate was entirely automated. It was run by a cybernetic device known as the Regular Order. The Master of Novices was a kind of systems engineer who checked the numbers once in a while, read out the passengers’ temperatures and made a few minor adjustments. It is conceivable that he could have propped up […]

In the Beginning 1945

In the middle of my senior year at Regis High School, and without losing a step of my steady pace in the tracks of Miss Maloney and her fellow steeplechase artists, I, the infant moyen sensual, told the Reverend Thomas Burke, S.J. of my intentions of signing up with his Company. Father Burke seemed neither […]

I Think I’ll Pass on the Bulgarian Monastery 2012

I am sitting, this late November day in 2012, beside a pool in the Ritz-Carlton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Yesterday, before I left New York, I received a phone call from my first wife. I almost didn’t pick up when the ID flashed, but since this was her first call in 40 years, I […]

Ma nuit chez les badu 1977

Every Syrian I have ever met, and you can throw the Jordanians, Iraqis and Saudis in there too, has claimed that his family was badu, Bedouin, and not all that far back either. It’s an ancient boast and has to do with, among other things, the belief that it was the Bedouin who spoke the […]

Busra–Once Sham 1972

From Suweida on the western side of the Jebel Druze the black asphalt road from Damascus heads due south along the slope line of the mountain and then slowly descends back onto the plain at the southwest corner of the Jebel. The plain, like the mountain behind us, was now black, but here and there […]

At the Tomb of the Prophet 1988

It’s 5 A.M. in Jedda when I touch down. The atmosphere here beside the Red Sea feels like the inside of a sauna, fiercely hot and dripping damp. I struggle through customs and look about for my guide. No foreigner wanders the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia unaccompanied, Zayd al-Badawi, my former tutor, philosopher and guide […]

The Downtown Local 1943

Of course you can never go home again. I knew that. I never went back to smell the lilacs that bloomed, and perhaps still do, about the Bronx school and convent of Our Lady of the Assumption on Country Club Road, or even to contemplate the ivy that surely still runs round the lead-mullioned windows […]

Life Lessons 1940

Pelham Bay—it’s sounds a trifle rustic, which it was then and remains still. And the Irish and Italians who lived there enjoyed its mild confusion with Pelham Manor, its more genteel Westchester neighbor to the north. There was nothing particularly genteel about Pelham Bay, except perhaps on a Sunday morning in the years before the […]

A Day in the Country 1956

Part of every Jesuit’s training was teaching for two or three years in one of the many high schools run by the Society of Jesus. In the New York Province, to which I  then belonged, the schools were all conveniently located in the New York metropolitan area, a happy prospect for me after four years […]