Category Archives: Scenes from a Life

High on the Golan 1974

A highway runs straight down the spine of Syria: Aleppo, Damascus, Dera’a. From Aleppo it wriggles crookedly northwest to the Turkish frontier; from Dera’a it drops quickly southward into Jordan. On its descent from Damascus the highway divides some of the most fertile land in the Middle East, a carpet of rich red earth that […]

A Very Indifferent Jesuit 1954

It pleases Jesuits to call themselves “Ours”. Ours were not to own property, were to regard the Superior as the instrument of the will of God and were to have as little as possible to do with Externs, all those who were not One of Ours. I am an Extern of long-standing now, but for […]

A Season in the Sun 1947

Novitiate time was like no other before or since. There were no calendars about and none of us had wristwatches, so time was a public rather than a private commodity. It was stored in large Seth Thomas clocks in the hall and the ascetory and dispensed to us in small particles by the Manuductor from […]

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 […]