Thursday, June 12, 2014

Something Different

A little more than a year ago, while discussing my love for the Short Story, a coworker suggested that I start writing short fiction.  "I make a better essayist," I responded.  But the bug stuck.  And I have been having a hard time writing either one since then .  Well, as it happened, I had time tonight to try something a little different.  The following is my first attempt at a (very) short story. It is, unedited and un-reviewed.  I am not satisfied with the final few lines yet.  But perhaps this is the beginning of something altogether new for me.


Boys Don't Cry

“I think you should cry every day.  I do,” the young man said.

The comment went unnoticed or at least unacknowledged by the other boys in the group.  Each of the three, not really boy but not yet men, well-built, fit, and popular among their peers, were unlikely candidates for lachrymose outbursts.  The dissonance of the comment, however, seemed apparent only to the priest who, for the better part of an hour, had been mostly listening to the conversation.  He did not necessarily disagree with the young man.  There was probably nothing wrong with having a nice cry when one was certain he was alone.  But to speak of it aloud?  In front of one’s peers?  One’s male peers?  What was the world coming to?

The priest had not cried for a very long time, he reflected.  He could not remember when last he had wept.  Indeed, in his adult life, he could remember only vaguely a few instances wherein he had lost his composure and given himself over to tears.  These were not pleasant memories.  Such loss of control could only be occasioned by the most shattering of disappointments.  For everything else, a cigarette had always sufficed.  

The priest could no longer help but interject.  “Do you cry in front of people?”

“Not always,” the boy said.

“Your dad?” the priest asked?


“Do you ever see him cry?”

Here the boy paused. “Not very often,” he finally answered.  “He cried at his dad’s funeral.  I saw him cry last year when one of his student’s committed suicide.”

The other boys began speaking about their own father’s but the priest did not hear.  He was thinking of his own dad.  The priest could recall only one occasion upon which he had seen his own father cry.  It was at the funeral for Benny, the son of a friend.  Benny had been only sixteen years old when his head was crushed in an ATV accident.  Everybody, mused the priest, had cried that day.  

More memories made their way into the priest’s consciousness.  Had his father cried when the priest’s grandmother died?  When the priest’s younger brother had left home for misadventure in the military?  These recollections provided no certainty.  Once.  He had seen his father cry once.  As a child, the priest’s father had convinced him that he was no longer capable of tears, having wasted them all during his own early years.  The priest’s father made this claim most commonly as a way to induce his own sons to stop crying.  It must have worked.  The priest seldom cried these days. 

The buzz of a cellular phone brought the conversation to an abrupt halt.  “Where are you?” the text message asked?  As though being roused from a stupor, the boys simultaneously came to the realization that it was late, and the snow that had been a flurry when the boys had arrived for their catechism classes was now beginning to accumulate on the streets.  Homework was still undone.  Basketball practice was scheduled for early the next day.  Further conversation, regardless of how edifying it might be for any of the parties involved, would have to continue at another time.

The priest remained sitting for a long time after the boys had left.  It had been a long week.  In the confessional, twice women had told him, after having kept it secret for decades, of babies they had aborted.  As the priest had prayed with them and had, by the power of his office, absolved them of their sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he felt a sudden spasm in his stomach and quickly swallowed the lump in his throat before a teardrop had time to gather in his eyelashes.  The same thing had happened again when the new bride called him on his cell phone to tell him that her marriage had already disintegrated.  His heart ached for her.  But he didn’t cry.  This urge to let go, to give in, to lose control, to be vulnerable, this thing he had so carefully avoided, was creeping up on him.  He no longer believed in coincidence.  Surely this all meant something.

That had all be months ago, now.  And was the priest was tired.  So many people needed so many things.  Was there no one else who could help them?  Surely others could offer advice better than his own.  He was bored.  No book was interesting.  No television show was amusing.  His hobbies were dissatisfying.  He was lonely.  One of his friends was moving away.  They would not see one another for a long time.  He missed his parents.  He missed his brothers.  He missed the place where he grew up.  he missed the smell of cow, and the smell of grass, and the smell of stagnant stock dam water, and the smell of summer.  He wanted, just for a minute or two, to lay everything down.  He felt heavy.  He wished he could cry.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Merry Christmas 2013

This year's Christmas letter.  On the Last Day of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

As an undergraduate at a liberal arts university, I was introduced to many of the classic works of Western Culture.  Through this exploration of Homer and Augustine, Michelangelo and Monet, Bach and Bob Dylan, I was meant to gain insight into a single but enduring question:  What does it mean to live a good life?  I find I am wont to revisit the same line of inquiry as Christmas continues and a new year begins.

I have never been much inspired by Black Friday Sales, but I find I am still very much a consumer.  I have more things than I need: guns, bows, fishing poles, clothes, and since last February, a new vehicle.  I have found pleasure in all of these, though my pleasure diminished dramatically when the sparkplug for the fifth cylinder of the new pickup incinerated and fell inside the engine. 

Over the summer, with thirty-some other locals, I made a pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro.  Prodded, crushed, trampled, lost, and sometimes the victim of foreign-tongued invective, I saw the statue of Christ the Redeemer, I stood in the surf on Copacabana Beach, and I listened to the Pope as he called each of us to be better disciples of the Lord at home.  Having acquired something viral, and with sand in my hair, sand in my bags, and sand everywhere else, I hacked and coughed and sneezed my way back to Spearfish, glad to have gone, and gladder still to be home.

Since Rio, God has brought into this world a new healthy nephew, and He has taken from this world a weak and sickly grandmother.  Fish were caught and released, pheasants shot and eaten, storms have blown, drifts have melted.  Sins have been forgiven, the sick have been anointed, lovers have wed, widows have mourned, and the sacrifice of Calvary has been renewed day by day at the Holy Mass.  Even these, however, taken by themselves, do not constitute the good life.  

St. Paul instructs the Thessalonians in his first epistle to them, “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks always.”  I am struck again and again at all for which I have to be thankful, all for which I ought rightly rejoice.  God gives so generously, even to the point that He would give Himself first in a manger and then on a cross.  In return, he asks very little: just everything.   It is in this realization that I begin to see how the good life must be lived.  When so much has been given to me out of God’s love, how can I but give it all in return?  I fail at this goal often.  I remain proud and selfish.  I continue to sin.  So often I love poorly.  But Christ is at work in me. In a life that is exceedingly busy, regularly punctuated by long committee meetings, and frequently interrupted by someone needing something, I am learning more and more to abandon myself, to give myself, to lose myself in Christ.  And I find that I am exceedingly happy.  I love my people.  I love my parishes.  I love my priesthood.   

So, thank you.  I am truly grateful for you, for your warm sentiments, kind regards, and everything that you give me.  You are among the things for which I offer thanks to God.  Know of my prayers for you during this Holy Season.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Fr. Tyler Dennis   

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Little Ill

Over the course of the years and in my various travels, I have eaten some odd things: bugs in Mexico, kangaroo and octopus in Australia, horse in Poland, and very recently, whale at a party I hosted. I generally refuse to ask what I am eating until after I have already consumed it. Chances are it will taste good if I don't approach it with any preconceived notions. Most often it works out (I didn't really care for the whale).  I simply do not believe in babying my GI tract.  But sometimes my stomach revolts, and I pay at some length for the violence I do to it. Such was the case yesterday.  

Rumblings began as we were finishing lunch. I refused to be cowtowed by a stomach whining about only slightly hot chili sause. I retaliated by drinking a glass of coke. Before long, however, it was clear that I was going to need to beat a hasty retreat back at the condo. 

This, it turns out, was to be simply a shot across the bow(el?). By Thursday, I was miserable. I have not felt so badly in a very long time. I put on a brave face as we drove north from Santa Fe towards Los Alamos to Bandelier National Monument. 

The drive itself, aside from the crippling fear of soiling myself, was gorgeous. Mountains are not really my thing, but the cedar covered ranges made for astounding scenery. At a certain point, we passed the entry to the national laboratory where Einstein worked with the Manhatten Project. And then we made our way down a deep valley in which we would be introduced to about 1600 years of American history. 

The monument is located in an area that in ancient times was covered in a rock made from densely packed volcanic ash called tuf. The tuf looks much like sandstone, and erodes at least as easily. As the elements did their work, the walls of the canyon became pitted with holes. Centuries later, the ancesters of the Pueblo Indians would come to this valley and build homes in the tuf as well. Some build home in the easily excavated valley floor and covered the tops with mud. Some made homes directly into the sheer walls of the canyon. They were drawn there by abundant wildlife, fresh water, and fertile soil for corn. It is unknown why they eventually left, but the area was already abandoned when the Spanish arrived. 

Mom and I explored the valley for an hour or so, and then needing the bathroom, headed back toward the visitor center. On the way Mom tripped and took a spill, scraped up her knee, and rendered her a cripple. We made quite a pair. 

With my stomach still in revolt and Mom bleeding through the knee of her jeans, we decided we had better go home. We made it there without incident, and we stayed there the rest of the day. After lots of sleep and attempts at rehydration, I felt a good deal better this morning when we left to find a Walmart so we could better bandage Mom's knee, and then to the local Cathedral. 

The Cathedral of St. Francis is currently in its fifth instanciation on the current site. Originally an adobe church, it is now a large brick structure in historic Santa Fe. One enters through two enormous bronze doors. The inside is marked by a curious combination of old and new, European and Indigenous. The windows are old traditional stained glass, the stations of the cross a more modern and indigenous style. The sanctuary has a large reardos featuring saints from the new world. Beneath the sanctuary the graves of many of the Archbishops of Santa Fe. In a chapel to the left of the sanctuary, the faithful are encouraged to venerate Our Lady of the Conquest. The statue therein is the oldest carving of Our Lady in the United States. 

We spent time there to pray and then did a little shopping and wandering. The gem we found today was a little photography gallery featuring a number of pieces by Ansel Adams. By the time we were done there we were both running out of steam. We headed home for a nap, and I am pleased to report that I now appear to be fully returned to health and will shortly be going out to take vengeance on my treacherous bowels. 

Tomorrow we head for home. We haven't decided if this will be a one day or two day trip. If we see anything interesting on the way, I will be sure to let you know.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Old Catholic Stuff

Of primary importance on my short list of must see attractions in Santa Fe was the miraculous staircase housed within the lovely Loretto Chapel that was once the house of of worship for the Sisters of Loretto who were invite to serve in Santa Fe by the first Archbishop (after the area had become territory of the United States following the Mexican/American War). 

The beautiful Gothic structure built in the 1870s did not, however, have a staircase to the choir loft, as a traditional staircase would adversely impact the aesthetics of the chapel and use room that was needed for seating. Not knowing how to remedy the situation, the sisters prayed a novena to St. Joseph. On the ninth day a mysterious carpenter arrived with no tools but a saw, a t-square, and tubs in which to soak the wood. When he had finished, he had constructed a spiral staircase of thirty-three steps which makes two full 360 degree turns. It has no support from the wall nor in the center. The full weight rests on the final tread. Upon its completion, the carpenter disappeared without payment. No record exists for the purchase of wood used in the stairs. No one has been able to reproduce the stairs. Tradition has it that the mysterious carpenter was St. Joseph. It was a beautiful and holy place, even though it is no longer owned by the Diocese, it retains is Catholic aesthetic and Mass is occasionally celebrated there still. 

From there we went to the San Miguel Mission, the oldest Catholic Structure in the country. It was built by native people under the direction of Franciscan Friars out of adobe bricks. With none of the refinement of the Loretto Chapel, it is nevertheless a holy place. Mass is still celebrated in the mission weekly, though Our Eucharistic Lord is not reserved due to the flow of tourists. 

From there, we explored some art galleries, grabbed a cup of coffee, and then met Melanie, a friend from long ago, at state museum where she works. We visited an exhibit on cowboys and then went to lunch with her. More exceptional Mexican food. We spent a long time catching up. It's been years since I have seen her. She was the folklorist for the State of South Dakota when we new her last. She has been many things since then, but she remains largely the same as when I first knew her. 

After all that, I wanted a nap, and since I'm driving I got one. After my slumber Mom and I went to the bug museum. It is rare to find a person as truly passionate about anything as the proprietor was about his bugs. I found it all quite charming, my mother found him slightly obnoxious. I learned more about bugs in forty-five minutes that I had ever known before. I took a picture with Ollie and his enormous beetles. I enjoyed every moment of it. 

Tomorrow we will probably be heading to Bandolero. I'm not entirely sure what it is, but it is outside and historical. More from there tomorrow. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Holy Faith

The providential nature of my destination did not strike me until just a few moments ago as I stood on the balcony gazing at the constellation Orion as he hung over the city of Santa Fe. Santa Fe. Holy Faith. One of the oldest installations of Catholicism in the United States. 

When I first suggested to my parents that we should take a trip to Santa Fe, the idea bore no particular religious significance to me. I wanted to see the city and its environs, and I wanted to take a trip with my parents. For a variety of reasons, my dad was unable to come and so I am sitting here now in a cheaply rented apartment with my mother, delightfully full of Mexican cuisine, and so deeply grateful at the prospect of several days off with no interruptions from the infirmed and dying, the hard-up, or those burdened by the woes of life. I love each of these groups of people as best I can, but truth be told, the best I can has been somewhat mediocre of late. I'm tired. Frightfully tired. My spiritual batterieas are nearly out of juice, and without a pause to recharge, I could easily become an obstacle to Christ. So, here I am in Santa Fe, ready to renew my own holy faith. 

I've been on the road two days getting here. Roads were mostly good for the drive, and Mom and I have found little to fight about. We shared a motel room in Stirling, Colorado last night and both managed to sleep. We transgressed the mountains at Raton Pass around noon today, and, after a brief stop at the ruins of Fort Union (the history of which involves the War with Mexico, the Civil War, Kit Carson, and the Santa Fe Trail), we got into Santa Fe around 4:00. It was a beautiful drive that became progressively warmer the further south we went, and there is blissfully little snow to be seen around here. Tomorrow we will meet a family friend whom we only discovered today works in a museum here. We will eventually see the miraculous staircase. Perhaps we will drive up to the Pecos State Park.  Perhaps we will just sit in the sun if it gets warm enough. In either case, I am anxious to rest, to pray, and to learn about things only tangentially related to the Church. I will try to keep you posted here.

Raton Pass

Hospital Ruins at Ft. Union

Bricks from which the original fort was constructed. 

Calvary bits. 

Calvary branding iron

View from the balcony. 

My living room for the next few days.