Letters and Aphorisms
If letter writing is a lost art, in this age of email, Facebook, and Twitter, you couldn't prove it by my friends and me. Many of our email exchanges are serious, reflective, topical, and carefully written. Religion, politics, current events, literature, and ideas, as well as personal matters, are grist for our epistolary mill. I'll post a few here, now and then.
Most will be mine, because posting someone else's requires permission; I don't always have time to get it; and it isn't always granted. But I'll often present exchanges too, or a series of letters to different people written in the same time period. If a letter stands alone it will have its own number, and one number will cover an exchange or a series. The most recent posting will be at the top and will have the highest number. So here as in scripture the last will be first. The order of posting will have nothing to do with the time the letters were written; recent postings may be from way back.
Many of the aphorisms are mine. (Each is attributed to its author.) A dictionary defines aphorism as: "Any pithily expressed precept or observation; a maxim." An epigram is "a concise pointed saying." I don't claim mine have literary value, but they express my state of mind and heart at a particular moment in my life. Many, perhaps most, were written in my twenties when I was an atheist or just coming out of atheism, and my interior life was most unsettled. A few were written later. They stopped coming altogether as I got older.
I never reached for them; never said to myself "I must write an aphorism." I'd be deep in thought when driving my car, a sentence would form in my mind, and I'd try to jot it down at a red light -- or pull over to the side of the road -- before I lost it. A sprinkling of them between the letters provides a change of pace.
I began by using only my aphorisms here. But after the first four entries I decided to mix them in with those of the great and famous, because the supply of Shane Hayes letters is unlimited but the supply of Shane Hayes aphorisms is not.
Please use this box to leave a comment after reading. Your reactions are of great interest to me, brief or long (one word can say a lot). The comment will reach me even if you don't identify yourself at all. Shane
[This was a recent exchange of emails between my nephew and me, about his long-deceased mother, my sister Eileen, who died in 1972 when he had just turned 13. My parents then raised Alex.]
Email September 08, 2014 10:01 AM
Is today my mother's birthday?
Email September 8, 2014
Yes, she would have been 82. Died 43 years ago at 39. How very young to die.
Email September 8, 2014
To: Shane Hayes
Subject: RE: Eileen
Amazing. When I think about it now I never really knew her. She is almost just a foggy memory at this point. I do remember quite a bit, of course, when I actually think back. It just doesn't happen that often. What a young age to die; and what a short, miserably unhappy life she had. I do vividly remember her frenzied, intense variety of Catholicism. She would probably be horrified how I've turned out--in that regard.
September 8, 2014
Everything you say is true. And yes, she would be horrified at how you turned out, in that regard [his becoming an atheist]. She was horrified when I did the same, for eight years. She prayed for me. I believe she's now praying for you (and me), as are Lita and Granddad.
Yes, it was an unhappy life. Boys and men were attracted to her, but the romances never worked out well, including the one with your father. Especially the one with your father. She never got over him, even long after the divorce. Wouldn't let him see her, at one point late in her illness, when he stopped by Lita's to pick you up, because her looks were so ravaged, and she wanted him to have a good mental image of her.
She did have a satisfying platonic relationship with an Augustinian priest she worked with at Malvern Prep, before she was stricken. And a fellow teacher at Malvern, Nick C____, raved about her when I told him at a recent West Catholic reunion that I was her brother. She was uncommonly bright, refined, and cultured, which Nick -- an English teacher -- appreciated. She was an inspiration to me, actually. Granddad and Lita were moral exemplars. Eileen was my intellectual exemplar.
Her two great griefs, apart from the break-up with George, were her unfulfilled wish to have two little girls she would name Holly and Whitney. Both were stillborn, when she carried them full term. Each time she was emotionally shattered. God, what a hard life it was, when I look back on it! And it had such a protracted, agonizing end.
It's sad you never got to know or relate to her as an adult. I didn't know my own father for the extraordinary man he was, until I worked for him after I graduated from college, and was mature enough perceive and appreciate his singular qualities of heart and character.
You were, of course, a source of great pride and pleasure to Eileen, though I'm sure you clashed at times. Apart from the question of faith, she would be extremely proud of the intelligent, cultivated, artistically talented man you've become; of your solid professional career; and of your devoted fathering of Max, whom she'd have doted on.
My three commandments, oft repeated, sometimes broken: Keep a cool head, a benevolent heart, and a determined will. Shane Hayes
Trembling I told myself: "Whatever you do, don't panic. The one loss you can't afford is your composure." Shane Hayes
Smokin' Joe Frazier took a lot of punches but his brain was okay. He said, "Life don't run from nobody. Life runs at people."
[This letter reveals a state of mind I blush
to acknowledge. I seem to have given up hope
of ever being published, but was going to continue
writing nonetheless. In my 70th year I was scratching
to find small compensations, to keep my morale afloat
and forge ahead with my books.
It was a black time almost exactly six years before
my breakthrough came in October of 2013.
Obviously my hope of publication revived soon
after this, because I was later relentless in
sending out query letters to agents and publishers.]
11/20/2007 – Email to John Federico
Thank you for “adagio,” which makes my slowness seem respectable and almost an artistic strategy.
Is my writing or re-writing cost-effective? I guess nothing is cost-effective if it doesn’t generate a revenue stream, or any revenue at all. And my writing doesn’t. So for me writing per se is not cost-effective in the economic sense, but a huge waste of time and effort. Of course you didn’t mean cost-effective in a technical way; you meant is it time well spent or wasteful perfectionism, even given my non-financial goals.
First let me clarify those goals – or underscore them if I’ve explained already. I have, in recent months, accepted the reality that I will not be published. I now see myself as an amateur novelist. I write for the love of writing, which I would go on doing even if I had no readers, because I would anticipate a few among my progeny (grandchildren, great-grandchildren) after I die.
But there is a reasonable hope, I think, that I will find some local book clubs that will select one or the other of my books for their monthly readings, as two already have. They invited me to their meetings, we had animated discussions about the books and how I wrote them, I signed a few copies, and we all went away stimulated.
A few dozen readers for a book is all I need to be a happy author. Three local book clubs are considering “Family Man” now (an appointed member for each is reading it). Rejections will come, but if I try half a dozen or so, odds are one will say yes. If I increase the number of approaches to clubs, I could have three or four selections a year, maybe more. That is what I now aspire to. I don’t need an agent or a publisher to accomplish it.
Is my revision of “Family Man” time well spent? I won’t know till I get reactions from test readers. I think I’m doing good work, but it’s experimental. Readers may like it or think it’s really dumb and distracting. So it’s a roll of the dice, but I have nothing to lose but time and effort. If the revisions haven’t made Ron more likeable, or if they have, but now the story doesn’t flow as well, or is slowed down by the additions, or if the additions seem goofy and pretentious, I can always scrap them. The original printed versions are still there.
Some people like Ron in that version, and some who don’t like him still like the book. I can meet my modest book-club goals with the books as they are. That’s the worst case. If the changes fly, I’ve made a good book better, and maybe more local book clubs will select it.
On the positive side, I’m having a hell of a lot of fun with this set of revisions. I really want them to work, for reasons I’ll explain at some point, and if they do I’ll carry them through all four or five novels in this “The Passions of Pennview” series.
So there’s a six-hundred-word answer to a six-word question. Is this writer eager for an audience? I’ll let you guess. We must get together between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I want to hear about your recent invasion of Vietnam and your latest thoughts about the battle for nomination. Are you reading the Hillary book?
P.S. If you’re ever chatting with someone in a book club (within driving distance), you might mention this amateur novelist you know who’s written two readable books and will appear at their club’s meeting (which Grisham, King, and Jhumpa Lahiri probably won’t do).
11/21/2007 – Email from John Federico
My rhetorical question was really not so brutal!! "Ars gratia gratis"`[art for art´s sake]: if you make just one person appreciate your "raison d'ecrire" it will have been a worthy effort. Isn't that [Peter, you comment] really what the 'arts' are about -- to allow communication from artist/writer/painter/ to the audience -even if it is an audience of one! Take heart ,my friend, the country is full of book clubs that will be better read when your "Family Man" is joined.
The pain of living with people is not nearly so great as the pain of living without them. Shane Hayes
Accepting failure as part of your day is a necessary condition of success. Shane Hayes
Theone way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy. Gustave Flaubert
Believe only in the truth of this day. All else may deceive you.
Be mentally where you are physically (whenever you can).
Try to see others as you would have them see you.
Note: The essay discussed in this letter became Chapter 1 in my book The Agnostic Path to God: A Creed for Modern Skeptics. A minister passed copies of the essay to a discussion group at his church. After the discussion, which I didn’t think went well, I wrote him this letter. Most of what I say about the essay is also true of the book.
5/28/2008 – Email to Rev. William H. Wood
Thank you for the opportunity you gave me yesterday to talk to your group about my essay.
We live and learn. If I could replay the meeting I’d approach it very differently. The essay was written not for believing Christians but for unbelievers – those who have rejected the God hypothesis or never seriously considered it. So hardly any of the members of our group would hear it speaking to them.
It would be of interest only to believers who might, now or at some point in their lives, want to reach out to an unbeliever (e. g., son, daughter, friend) and suggest she consider the merits and rewards of believing. Most evangelizing efforts of Main Line Protestant and Catholic churches – if there be such efforts – are directed at bringing tepid believers into the warmth of an active congregation. Engaging atheists about their atheism is almost unheard of.
Manners or Mission?
Main Line Protestants are so urbane and secular in their thinking, that commending their faith to one who doesn’t share it seems overbearing and ill-mannered, a faux pas. I feel the same aversion, and wonder how to reconcile it with the messianic imperative to “go forth and teach….”
If Christ had been as considerate of the feelings of the Pharisees as we are of the feelings of non-Christians there would have been no gospel, no Pentecost, no Christian church. How, I ask myself, can I be modern and sophisticated, on the one hand, and a quiet advocate for a magnificent faith, on the other? Writing essays like An Agnostic Argues for Faith is part of my answer.
Know or Believe: A Vital Difference Few Acknowledge
The article makes a distinction between knowing and believing which isn’t generally observed. There’s a lot we can know (Earth’s place in the solar system, the speed of light, the structure of an atom, the vastness of galaxies), but the existence or non-existence of God is something we can’t know. Acknowledging that is what makes me, in the philosophical sense, an agnostic. Though I can’t know (be sure) God exists, I can believe (form and hold an opinion) that he exists. Therefore I can simultaneously be an agnostic philosophically and a theist, even a Christian, in personal belief.
I think this linkage will seem novel and interesting to my target audience of atheists, though they may question it. But it will be off-putting to strongly believing Christians, many of whom feel they know there is a God and will resent my concession of uncertainty. I’ve no wish to make firm believers waver in their certainty, but the essay is aimed at atheists, and conceding that we theists can’t know makes my argument seem more rational and appealing to them. To Christian critics I say: Let me concede this, even if you don’t.
Atheism Is a Negative Faith. Ours Is a Positive Faith.
Of course, what makes most atheists bristle is my assertion that they can’t know either, and that their atheism is not knowledge of a scientific or philosophic fact, but belief in an unprovable hypothesis. They and we, with respect to God or No God, are both believers. Having thus leveled the playing field I can try to score a goal.
Those are some insights I should have given into the purpose, strategy, and design of the essay. Thanks again! See you at next Tuesday’s meeting on “The Bible and Mystery.”
5/29/2008 – Email from Rev. Bill Wood
Thanks for your thorough and interesting reflections. You make significant points here. I thought the session and discussion Tuesday was very good. I think it would be difficult for anyone in your position to guess where the discussion might head and how you might wish to assist it.
I have been attending from the beginning and I never know where we will go. That in truth is part of my continuing fascination with the gatherings. I thought your approach was very wise, patient, and instructive. I also think you should make any points you want to. Your work has been “entered” and thus is a part of the life of the group forevermore. I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.
The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated. William James
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Well done is better than well said. Benjamin Franklin
2/18/2008 – Email to Anthony Mazzone
I write this as a Taft/Goldwater conservative convinced that modern “conservatives” have lost their way and so corrupted the term that I blush to apply it to myself.
The last sentence [of the article you sent] is most impressive: “These same U.S. citizens are bending under the heaviest burden of private and public debt the world has ever seen, while their government encourages them to spend more.”
This from the Philadelphia Inquirer Op/Ed (by Veronique de Rugy) of 2/11/08: “U.S. government spending will have increased by more than $1.2 trillion since …Clinton left office; adjusted for inflation, that’s a 35 percent increase. Bush has increased spending at three times the rate Clinton did…. When Bush made his fiscal year 2008 budget request, he told us the deficit was going to be $239 billion. A year later, as we factor in supplemental requests, we find the 2008 deficit is $410 billion, and it will get larger as additional supplemental requests come in…. Bush’s… legacy… will be one of massive deficit spending that will be paid for by generations to come.”
The Bush tax cuts are immensely popular, but they will be hell to repay – and the interest on them in the meantime will be ruinous. Conservatives lambaste the “tax and spend Democrats.” I prefer them – Clinton gave us four straight balanced budgets -- to the borrow-and-spend Republicans, from Reagan to the elder Bush to the younger Bush. Kruschev said, “We will bury you.” He didn’t, but I’m afraid tax-cutting big-spending “conservatives” will. Their implied fiscal philosophy: Today is all that matters, and tomorrow never comes. Alas, we’ll soon be wallowing in tomorrow – and our children may drown in it.
2/18/2008 – Email to Pete Krok
I must respectfully differ. Youʼre right about commercials, the media, and our desires being causes of overspending among the populace. But the government does encourage people to spend more. The fed is throwing these rebates at us in the express hope that we will immediately spend them. I read a report in the PhiladelphiaInquirer a few months ago in which Bush was asking China to urge its citizens to stop saving (at least save less) and start to spend freely on consumer goods. In other words, the message from our president to China was: Discourage thrift! Urge your people to live high.
Of course, Bush is only preaching what he, as head of our government, has practiced since he took office. Cut taxes, raise expenditures, live way beyond your means. Today is all that matters. Thereʼs no tomorrow. That formula helped him get elected twice, and the three surviving candidates (except for a little tax-the-rich rhetoric on the Democrat side) are campaigning on it again. The actions of the federal government to some extent set an example for the people. In that sense, if no other, the fed encourages its citizens to overspend.
12/5/2007 – Email to Mazzone and Krok, copy to Federico (after an exchange of emails about the papacy)
Note: papabile means qualified to be elected Pope
Padre and Bard,
I'm for John Federico next time. He's papabile on the Isle of Capri, in Naples, elsewhere in Italy, in the Eastern U. S., Argentina, Brazil, Dubai, etc. It will take an act of God to lift the requirement of celibacy, but after all an act of God is not too much for... God. Immediately upon election -- i.e., on ascending the throne of Peter -- John will become infallible and his doctrinal aberrations will cease. He will no longer question the divinity of Christ; his views on Sabbath observance being optional will change.
I would not be surprised if he loosened up the sixth commandment a bit ("whatever you loose on earth..."). It was never his favorite. And he will be the only Pope in history to out-travel John Paul II. Viva Papa Giovanni! Viva Mamma Evelyn, the first First Lady in Vatican history!
12/6/2007 – Email from Anthony Mazzone
Should the expected appointment of Padre Mazzone as the modern era's only lay Cardinal come to pass, I will immediately create a Federico papabile exploratory committee. I will solicit funds from mysterious clients around the globe, enlist the financial support of the herbal medicine conglomerates, and call in favors (and miles) from the airline industry. I envision even the Muslims will be energized to the cause and we will be well positioned to put forth our candidate when the time is ripe.
Il cardinale Anthony Richlieu Mazzone
A rule that everyone knows (but I sometimes forget): Don’t try to do the extraordinary until you master the ordinary. Shane Hayes
If you wish to appear at best advantage in a crowd begin by helping someone else to. Shane Hayes
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
12/5/2007 – Email to Dr. George McLane (Ph.D. from Penn)
I meant to copy you on the attachment. By the way, I saw you on Walnut Street today around lunchtime. You crossed 17th St. right in front of my car. I honked loudly and repeatedly, but your eyes were fixed on a black mini-skirt and a great pair of legs a few feet in front of you and there was no diverting your attention.
I turned onto Walnut and almost caught up with you at 18th but you had vanished. You wore a brown jacket and some kind of hat, right? Or was it mistaken identity? In any case, you’d better behave. You’re under surveillance. I’ve put Pavone on your tail.
Shane [Pavone is the private eye in my novels.]
12/6/2007 – Email to John Federico (somewhere in Sao Paolo, Brazil
Subject: A Matter of Some URGENCY
Far [John’s nickname],
Would that you were not so far, at least far from your computer, since I have erred gravely and got myself into a fix. Last night at dinner, after all was squared away for our get-together at Padre’s on 12/20, I mentioned it to Mary Ellen. “Cauldron bubble, fire and trouble.” She informed me that the Baldwin School Christmas dinner was that same evening, that she had told me about it before (I have no recollection, but my memory is porous), and that I had failed to note it in my Day-Timer.
Last night she was resigned to our going separate ways that evening, but she woke me this morning to say she has reconsidered and will be seriously put out if, for the first time, I fail to escort her to the Baldwin dinner. (I understand how she feels.) If it’s not possible for me to rearrange the date at Anthony’s, I can go, and she’ll carry on bravely without me… but I don’t think that would be good for me, or her, or… us, if you know what I mean. So…
Before I speak to Bard or Padre, would you still be available on either the 19th or the 21st? Armed with that intelligence I will approach Bard and then our prospective host, to see if a change of date is possible. If not, I fear I will have to abandon our fellow-ship for the ship of matrimonial concord. What say you to 12/19 or 12/21?
12/12/2007 – Email to John Federico
Interesting analysis. I strongly agree with the idea that expansionism, and neo-conservative democratism [impose democracy everywhere], which is a form of expansionism, are not only bad politics and doubtful morality, but appalling fiscal strategy. A more restrained, diplomatic, and pacific foreign policy is the only thing that will steady our fiscal ship and keep it afloat.
Over the long term I believe peace is much more conducive to prosperity than war, though that fact can be obscured for years by irresponsible tax cuts and huge deficit spending. The day of reckoning approaches but Bush will be long gone before we are in its grip. I pray in January of '09 a wiser hand – of whatever party -- will be at the helm.
12/20/2007 – Email to Anthony Mazzone (cc: Federico and Krok)
You invited us for pizza, then proceeded to serve a delicious four- or five-course meal, with excellent wine, an eccentric guest’s preferred imitation beer, and a tasty dessert. It was good to see the Padre surrounded by his friendly progeny, his books, artworks reflecting his taste and his faith, in lovely rooms transformed by his and Janice’s skillful and patient labor. The self-made man, the faithful believer, the indulgent patriarch in his castle. Thank you for a delightful evening.
Thanks too for Chapter 1 of “A Short History of the Twenty-First Century.” It is a clever and original piece of work, written in the kind of formal prose often found in histories, charged with subtle humor, nostalgia, and prophetic wish-fulfillment. Though I cannot applaud the “reconstitution of the Inquisition” that would make my ilk extinct by the end of the century, I can applaud the literary flare that produced this highly serious spoof.
If Archbishop Lefebvre has not yet achieved the fullness of beatitude in the hereafter, you have moved him closer to it. Should you ever need a miracle I’m sure St. Marcel will exert his influence to produce one.
Thanks again for an excellent meal, four free bottles of O’Douls to take with me, and an evening of stimulating talk among the four of us.
It is a good rule always to behave as though you were a better man than you are. Shane Hayes
Don't worry about having courage. Simply do the courageous thing. Shane Hayes
It is a funny thing about life: If you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it. William Somerset Maugham
6/7/2003 – Email to my brother-in-law Dennis K in Maine
You were rash enough to ask that I send you a synopsis of my novel. A few days ago a literary agent who is giving a novel-writing workshop asked me for a synopsis. I wrote one for her which was eleven pages long; that seemed to me a pretty good compression of what will be about a 700-page manuscript. The agent nixed it: says it should be about 200 words, akin to the kind of blurb you find on the inside flap of a hardcover book. So I obliged with the enclosed synopsis. It gives you a very vague and general idea what the book is about; no real sense of what’s in it.
My big problem with this first draft of Novel 1 is its length. The agent says it should be between 65,000 and 85,000 words. I’m nearing 150,000 words now and am not quite halfway through the plot. Even trying hard to be succinct the rest of the way, I can’t see less than 200,000 (530 pages) to 220,000 words (585 pages). I won’t mutilate it by cutting to 85,000 words. Better unpublished than mispublished, I think. I’m going to do justice to the story and then worry about the length issue.
Hope you had a good flight home. We look forward to visiting you the second week in July. It will be my first look at Maine.
5/17/2002 -- Email to Joe Petrecca
Excerpts from humorous email Joe sent me: NINETEEN THINGS IT TAKES 50 YEARS TO LEARN
(9) Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.
(14) You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.
(16) The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe we are above average drivers.
Thanks. Amusing. It took me 60 years to learn #9, so I missed 45 years of fun at weddings. I vaguely recall once transgressing #14 with a woman who wasn't; that rule is pure wisdom. I'm an exception to #16: I know I'm a lousy driver (maybe because Mary Ellen has told me so on an almost daily basis for 4 1/2 years -- and she's right).
I was scheduled to have our sixteenth annual dinner at Pica's on West Chester Pike with Jack Curran and Dan Ziegler (both from our Class of ‘56) tonight, but Jack called me this afternoon and cancelled because his mother is on her deathbed and may not survive the day. She's in her mid-80s and has fought a brave fight with cancer for a couple of years.
When I called Dan he told me that his mother died last September. Not many of us have even one parent left. When Jack, Dan and I do meet for dinner we'll all be orphans. I just remembered that Jack McGowan ('56) has both parents alive, and Bill Andiario's father is still in good shape, so there are some stalwarts.
I finished Chapter 26 today. On to 27 tomorrow. (Hope 30 will do it.) Have a good weekend.
6/2/2002 – Email to Peter Krok
Subject: Father M_______
I'm going to be very candid. I wouldn't enjoy having Father M_______ at this get together. As the author of a book and the subject of a documentary film, I've no doubt he's a strong personality and an admirable man. I'd be privileged to meet him in a social setting. But if I'm not mistaken he's at the far left end of the Catholic and political spectrum (much of the mindset of the Berrigans). On political or religious controversies we'd be at odds. I would try his patience and he would try mine, and I'm not nearly as far to the right as Anthony, who is not as far to the right as Jim (a follower of Cardinal LeFevre).
If we wanted to model this colloquy on the Left-Right TV shout-session called Crossfire, Fr. M______ would be an exciting panelist. But I envision it principally as a chance for Jim and Anthony, being of similar theological bent, to meet, get acquainted, find each other stimulating, and join in putting me in my place. I suggest that you come and, when the dust settles and you've picked me up off the floor, tell them your idea about Fr. M_______ and see what they think. I wouldn't at all oppose bringing him to a future lunch, if after this first one you and they think it a good idea.
I know how you bristle about left-right, liberal-conservative terminology; but to pretend those poles and factions don't exist, or that it is in bad taste to allude to them in those terms, is a constraint I find incompatible with religious and political discourse. I wouldn't know how, with any succinctness, to make the points I made in the above paragraph, without the terms I used.
Sorry Mary Ellen and I didn't connect with you at the Strawberry Festival. Thank God spring weather's here at last.
"My whole strength is in this," he said, "that I know exactly who I am." Shane Hayes
One of the surest marks of maturity in a man or an artist is that he doesn't overreach himself. Shane Hayes
We need others to make us critical of ourselves. Peter G. Federico
Letter to Family and Friends with Christmas Cards Sent in 1993
December 4, 1993
After sitting for five unproductive minutes in front of my word processor, groping for a readable opening paragraph, I decided the best remedy for writer's block is sometimes to write about it. So there, I confessed it and I'm started. But the year is ending. I hope it has been a good one for you and your family, as it generally has been for ours.
Robin, our eldest (now 22, and this is the last year I'll allude to her age) was graduated from West Chester University in August with a B. S. in Economics. She promptly possessed herself of a job with Corporate Life Insurance Company (West Chester office) and a gleaming white '93 Mustang with sunroof.
Christian, at age 20 one of eighteen inhabitants of a frat house at Bloomsburg University, found the joys of college life more stimulating than its challenges. He and a fraternity brother decided to leave Bloomsburg after a semester in which their academic performance reflected their long hours of arduous socializing. The dream was to spend an idyllic year in the Florida Keys (Key West, specifically) where they could relish the good life without the need to pose as students and where the tropical landscape was unmarred by the cheerless sight of classroom buildings and libraries.
Chris came home in mid-May, worked two-shifts (often sixteen hours a day -- he's not averse to work, just to study) at a local pizzeria, making pizzas and hoagies and occasionally running the place when the boss was away. He saved over $5,000, and in late September he and his friend blasted off for Florida.
They drove through Key West, were vastly disillusioned with what they saw ("This place is a dump!" was one of their printable reactions) and, without stopping the car, proceeded north to Boca Raton, where several of their fraternity brothers had settled. Chris quickly found a job as a waiter (after a grueling ninety-minute interview by three people, who rejected his friend) at the Boca Raton Club, an exquisitely rich hotel and restaurant at which he can make up to $600/week.
He's doing fine on the job and likes Boca Raton but, surprisingly, plans to leave it and migrate north next April or May. I gather the attraction is Ocean City, Maryland, where some of his favorite fraternity brothers celebrate summer. In our phone conversations I do sense that a maturing process is underway (he's 21 now, works like a demon, has a knack for accumulating money, and is often irked at the improvidence of his traveling partner). In the end, degreed or undegreed, I have a feeling he'll land on his feet.
Having given Chris too much copy, I must give his two younger sisters short shrift (as usual, they'll say).
Holly is eighteen and a freshman in the College of Nursing at the University of Delaware. The program is academically grueling -- intensive biology and chemistry courses with heavy lab work -- but she's coping admirably. She is a retired gymnast who took up diving her senior year in high school and became the best on her team.
That was only a four-month experience with the sport, though, and the University of Delaware coach showed no interest in her until she matriculated (he ignored her high-school coach's phone calls). Holly made the U of D diving team this year as a walk-on and has already started scoring well in meets. For two years she's been dating a boy from her high school who is now a sophomore at LaSalle.
Candy just turned sixteen and is learning to drive. She began to show signs of becoming a serious student late last year and that has carried over to this semester. She seems to do particularly well in English and Journalism and gets high grades in her writing assignments. Her social life is so active that I marvel at her ability to not only keep up with her studies but play three sports each year.
Jill's condition (multiple sclerosis) has not improved in the past year: her pain and fatigue are almost unremitting. [Jill was my first wife and the mother of my four children.] For several days she has been so weak she can hardly get out of bed, but her doctor advised her yesterday that this new and acute problem appears to be something other than MS. (Her heart rate was 120; normal is 60 to 80.) We're waiting for test results to aid in the diagnosis.
I'm feeling fine, am happy with my job and hope it lasts till I can afford to retire. With the Department of Defense drastically downsizing, one learns to savor every paycheck and trust in providence.
Shane, Jill, and children
Nothing is quite so futile as our mental efforts to undo the past. Shane Hayes
You must continually unfasten yourself from the past. And that is not something you can do once: you must do it daily. For there is always a new past behind you. Shane Hayes
If a man has important work, and enough leisure and income to do it properly, he is in possession of as much happiness as is good for any of the children of Adam. R. H. Tawney
8/24/2004 – Email to John Federico
Your last comment about "their intelligence service" being “better than the KGB’s” seems to refer to the Catholic Church's, right? (Puzo is known to have been a student of the mafia; I didn't know he had an insider's view of the Church too.) If he was right, I wonder how the fact that the clergy was crawling with practicing pedophiles escaped their notice.
Well, they had their media scandal and we had our 9/11. Guess intelligence ain't what it used to be for either the Church or the USA. Both have begun to pay for the deficiency and neither knows yet how high the price will be. Hope to see you on Friday. I'll give you Pete's number if I get it.
8/25/2004 – Email to Sister ____________
You were kind to offer me your nomination for Pope. Unfortunately I lack two requirements for eligibility: a vocation to the religious life and the state of celibacy. Since you have both, I hereby nominate you as successor to John Paul II. Italy has provided Popes for centuries, and Eastern Europe gave us the last. Isn't it high time a Pope was chosen from the far Western end of Europe, rewarding Ireland for seventeen centuries of often heroic Catholicism, even in the face of terrible oppression.
Of course your gender is as much an impediment as my marriage and lack of a vocation. But if we can combine my maleness with your celibacy and vocation, by running as partners (co-Pontiffs), we could meet all requirements. I'll let you have all the infallibility if you'll let me write the encyclicals that proclaim your ex-Cathedra pronouncements.
You can travel all over the world like John Paul (you've always had a bit of wanderlust, haven't you?) and I'll stay home in the Vatican and run the Church. We could solve the worldwide shortage of priests by making celibacy optional, not mandatory, and by allowing women to be ordained. Between us we could make papal history and, in the process, add some lustre to the Hayes name.
Holly, Rob, and the twins are doing very well. The babies are fine healthy specimens, goodlooking, sweet-tempered, and beginning to (on occasion) sleep through the night. Holly's back at work as a dialysis nurse at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, after three months of maternity leave, and is managing her professional workload and expanded duties as homemaker with efficiency and verve. Rob loves being a father as much as Holly loves being a mother. Jill and I relish our new status as grandparents, and Jill has been helping mightily to lighten Holly's load. All in all it's a happy situation.
I'm glad your mother is doing well and that Frank is at least not worse. I too am praying his treatment will bring healing.
Love from both of us,
Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
One emotion consumes as much energy as ten thoughts. So if you feel less and think more you will go farther with less effort.
Do your work; don't feel it. Shane Hayes
2/13/2009 – Email to Bill Rayner; cc to a score of others
In our phone conversation yesterday I quoted what I called “the most useful piece of advice anyone ever gave me.” You liked it so much you asked me to email it to you. This is my response to that request, which I take the liberty of sending, via blind copy, also to family and friends – about thirty of them -- who haven’t asked for it but may like it too. The advice -- a paraphrase, not an exact quote -- was this sentence by William James, a notable philosopher and the Father of American Psychology:
“Pay primary attention to what you do and express, and don’t care too much for what you feel.”
Yes, there’s a psychologist telling his readers and clients not to be overly concerned about their feelings. Those born with all the right instincts and impulses – you’re probably one of them -- may never need that advice. But I was born with mostly wrong instincts and impulses, and had to remake myself (a lifetime task still far from finished). That Jamesian maxim, used as a self-command in vexed moments, hours of gloom, and the throes of social tension, helped me turn my mind from emotional turmoil I couldn’t control to the words, actions, and body language I could control.
James points out – and I’ve often confirmed in practice -- that the feeling often follows the act. If you’re feeling glum, acting cheerful can make you feel cheerful. If you’re scared, a bold posture can make you feel brave. If you don’t feel like praying, assuming a prayerful attitude, reciting a psalm, singing a hymn, or saying the Lord’s Prayer can bring on feelings of reverence. If I don’t feel like writing, forcing myself to sit in front of a computer, placing my fingers on the keyboard, and grinding out one uninspired phrase can bring on a torrent of creativity.
If you’re not in a mood for socializing, walking into a roomful of chattering people and acting interested in someone can spark feelings of friendliness and interest you could not have generated if you had stayed home or taken a solitary walk. Since the feeling tends to follow the act, we can’t let our feelings define us or set our limits. To grow, mature, improve ourselves, develop socially, morally, and spiritually, the key to transformation is: “Pay primary attention to what you do and express and don’t care too much for what you feel.”
James admits this prescription, potent as it is, doesn’t work every time. But when the effort to apply it fails to change an especially intractable mood, “then nothing else on that occasion can.” Though it’s not a magic formula, it’s the closest thing I’ve found to one. For many vexed by emotional problems, I think earnestly using that tool for one month will improve their psyches and their lives more than ten years on an analyst’s couch and a barrel of tranquilizers. I wish I could share that insight with a lot of people who might profit by it, as I have.
2/17/2009 – Email from Rev. William H. Wood, III
I thank you for sharing this wisdom. It is indeed sound counsel, say I. I remember my brother years ago wrote an editorial in our high school newspaper expressing the belief that the hardest part of studying for exams is sitting down and opening the book. Once that is done, the intrigue often kicks in. I find that is still true for me in the process of sermon writing.
I am grateful to you as well as to William James. I’m glad to know you two are friends.
The Reverend William H. Wood, III
Rector, St. Christopher's Church
2/17/2009 – Email to Rev. William H. Wood, III
Thanks for your acknowledgement. Your brother’s exam-prep experience and yours with sermon writing are good examples of the James maxim in practice. That recalls another bit of wisdom often urged on me by my father: “Begin, and the power to do comes to you.” I’m not sure whether that was his saying or someone else’s, but like the James maxim its truth has often astonished me.
Hope you and Christine are well and enjoying the New Year, market collapses and icy winds notwithstanding.
8/26/2007 – Email to Pete Krok (re: a collection of quotes he sent)
Nice collection. For me, though, the Churchill maxim was worth all the rest. [“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”] I'm reading a book entitled "Franklin and Winston," which makes Churchill look like not only a statesman but also a personality, an intellect, and a master of English rhetoric and prose... for the ages.
Did you know he wrote not only those famous historical works and memoirs, but also a novel, and that his paintings are now thought to have serious artistic merit? In the 20th Century, who more than he could be called a Renaissance man? He was apparently always faithful to his wife, and had a surprising, quick, trenchant wit. This book is engaging, but it is likely to whet rather than satisfy my desire to know more of Churchill.
Mary Ellen joins me in thanking you and Bobbie Lou for a very enjoyable party last night. Lots of good stuff to eat and drink, lots of agreeable people to talk to. Karen was an unofficial MC and added greatly to the fun by her multiple-choice questions, and anecdotes, in the basement and her conversation in the living room. Quite a woman. No doubt, soon to be quite a doctor. Glad she announced your forthcoming book to the assembled guests.
8/27/2007 – Email to Pete Krok in reply to a page of quotes he emailed.
Thanks. I'm moved to comment on these two:
“Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.” Bo Derek
“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” Oscar Wilde
Bo Derek is probably the most physically beautiful human being who ever said something quotable. Of course, the content of her quip proves wit but not moral elevation. In defense of her view, no less an artist and thinker than Samuel Butler (author of "The Way of All Flesh") shared her sentiment and ranked money even above health as a human desideratum.
This is the second time in a week that I've seen an Oscar Wilde quote that is grammatically wrong in a way that is politically correct today but would not have been in his day. I'll bet that in the original it read: "Experience is the name everyone gives to his mistakes." Wilde was nothing if not grammatical.
The same mentality that edits these intellectual icons into political correctness -- and often grammatical solecism -- also edits the words of Christ in the Bible to make it appear that he said what they wish he had said. (The Catholic versions of scripture read at Mass do this, and Mainline Protestant versions do the same.) But Jesus was no more politically correct than Wilde in his pronouncements, though he said vastly different things. Thank God the original versions of these venerable works have not yet been burned.
The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated. William James
Don't worry too much about how you feel. A man is under no obligation to be happy at all times. As long as he behaves decently to his fellows he may be as miserable as he wants. Shane Hayes
Keep a cool head, a benevolent heart, and a determined will. -- Shane Hayes
6/16/2012 – Email to Paul H., who asked if minister and author Tim Keller was influential in forming my faith
No. I read Tim Keller’s book last year, after I had written mine. I complimented him on his book and asked if he would read mine with a view to a possible endorsement. I’m not sure my request ever got past his secretary. He was away and she said she would bring my letter to his attention when he returned at the end of the summer (not before). I never heard from him. I had no endorsements, at that point; perhaps I’d fare better now. TK’s book is well done, but his approach is much more like yours than mine. It had no effect on my thinking or writing.
The New York pastor who had a profound influence on my life was Norman Vincent Peale. I began attending his church (Marble Collegiate on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan) in 1967 when I was still an atheist (age 28). My Catholic father, a Peale admirer, urged me to go for spiritual reasons. I went for social reasons and got connected with Marble’s Young Adults group – 300 single men and women – whose faith made me feel they had something precious that I lacked. It was there that I went through two years of what I describe in my book as Pure Theism, connecting in prayer with a personal and loving God, not otherwise defined.
At the end of that two-year period, having married a girl from the group, I entered Princeton Theological Seminary to study for the ministry. Five of us from the group went that year. During the course of it I became a Christian. Quite unexpectedly and inconveniently I then began to feel the tug of my strong Catholic roots, which caused so much ambivalence that I left seminary.
Peale had little effect on my theology, but his simple faith wrapped in a positive-thinking philosophy got me through some very hard times, and inspires me to this day. My book explains in detail the stages in my metamorphosis from Catholic, to atheist, to dilettante Hindu/Buddhist, to Pure Theist, to Christian with a strong attachment to both Protestant and Catholic traditions and worship styles. Hope you’ll read it. And I hope we meet sometime soon.
6/26/2012 – Email to Mary Sue Seymour, Literary Agent
Your contract came in yesterday’s mail. Thank you. I have read it carefully and some questions come to mind:
1. My assumption was that this contract would apply only to my nonfiction book The Agnostic Path to God: A Creed for Modern Skeptics. That’s the only book I’ve written at this point that has special appeal to the Christian market. You made it clear to me in our first exchange of emails that I should not query you for work of a nonchristian character. I’ve also written two novels for the secular market, which would be classified as literary or mainstream and which I think would appeal only to a secular agent or publisher. Moreover I’ve fully plotted a third novel (they would be a trilogy) also for the secular market, though I haven’t started drafting it.
I’ve authored a couple of memoirs, which are of interest only to my family and descendants, but which might be of general interest if something I wrote succeeded on a large scale. And I have a big collection of letters and aphorisms, about which the same would be true.
Can we agree that this contract covers only The Agnostic Path to God and that I’m free to place the works mentioned above, and other works I may create, with another agent or publisher, even during the contract term?...
I will correct the misspelling of my name on the contract – it’s so easy to get it wrong and hard to get it right. That’s why the pen name Shane Hayes is so useful.
I look forward to joining the Seymour fold and to your making my literary dreams a reality. That’s an inspiring slogan and a splendid life work.
6/30/2012 -- Email to Anthony Mazzone
Yesterday was a step forward. Literary Agent Mary Sue Seymour, of The Seymour Agency www.theseymouragency.com, sent me a contract and later agreed to the changes I requested. She’ll be my agent only for TheAgnostic Path to God and I’ll be free to seek other representation for my very secular novels and anything else I write. Yesterday I sent her by UPS the signed amended contract and other items she requested: seven copies of my 53-page book proposal, seven copies of a one-page description (2/3 of the book, 1/3 of me), and a short blurb (3 sentences) for her to post on Publisher’s Marketplace. It should reach her on Tuesday, at which point the one-year representation period should commence.
She may not do anything, though, till she attends an international convention of Christian booksellers from 7/15-7/18 in Orlando. She will meet with seven different editors there; hence the seven items mentioned above. Here’s what I said in the one-page item:
The Agnostic Path to God: A Creed for Modern Skeptics
by Shane Hayes
Every Christian knows atheists and agnostics, but few know how to reach them. This book fills that gap. A blend of argument and memoir it offers hardcore unbelievers a new approach to the question of God and draws them toward faith. A Christian who came out of atheism, I have a special concern for skeptics. Their numbers expand at a frightening rate and they threaten to dominate our culture. I understand their mindset better than those who never experienced atheism.
Standard conversion literature rarely penetrates their defenses. This book may bring them to God, when their minds are slammed shut to Christ. It was impossible for me to come directly to Christ from atheism. I had to pass through two years of what I call Pure Theism. I propose that in my book, though it’s only one step out of atheism. Many will then take the second step, to Christ, who – like me – could not have done so without a transitional move to Just God (a personal and loving deity).
An evangelical Christian publisher, Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society), contracted to publish my book, then months later went out of the book-publishing business. They saw that using agnosticism to make a case for faith can be an effective strategy in an era that demands new techniques of evangelism. There’s nothing unchristian about being subtle and indirect. Jesus said, “Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” My strategy is both wise and innocent. The Master would approve it.
This book joins the debate stirred up by the New Atheists. Their books have sold well, some hugely and globally. For example: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins; The End of Faith by Sam Harris. They have convinced a multitude that it is not intellectually respectable to believe in God. My book uses agnosticism (a kind compatible with faith) to make a pro-faith case to skeptics. I argue that believing in God is a rational, intelligent, prudent, and practical option, even if one is philosophically agnostic. I make a vital distinction between one’s philosophical position and one’s personal belief. Though we can’t know, we can still choose to believe. My blog was called The Believing Agnostic. My first chapter is An Agnostic Argues for Faith. The agnostic label opens the ears of skeptics.
A native Philadelphian, I earned my bachelor’s and my law degree from Villanova University, and studied for a year at Princeton Theological Seminary. I worked as a writer/editor for Prentice Hall and an attorney for the federal government. My personal essays have appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other wide-circulation media. I am married, have four children, and live in suburban Philadelphia. The Agnostic Path to God is my first nonfiction work. I have written two novels, not yet published. Shane Hayes is the short easy-to-remember pen name of Terry McGinnity II, Esq.
My religious experience is multifaceted and gives me a rare perspective: I went from ardent Catholic (nearly a Trappist monk at seventeen), to militant atheist at twenty, to dilettante Hindu/Buddhist, to Pure Theist (a term I explain in the book), to a Christian studying for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, to a man with such strong ties to both Protestant and Catholic Christianity that I can identify myself only as a Christian. That is, a Christian in personal belief, but an agnostic philosophically in the sense that I don’t think the beliefs can be proven – or need to be. I show that New Atheist positions are also personal beliefs, not facts, and that they can’t be proven either. One must choose either faith in God -- or faith in No God.
There are no guarantees, Padre, of course. My cousin Barbara Callahan, a much-published mystery-story writer, got a big NY agent for her novel but never found a publisher for it. But Mary Sue will get me more exposure than I’ve ever had or could get for myself. I hope something good will happen during the contract year, if not this year. Thanks for asking.
When you talk about a person, whether critically or otherwise, speak always as if that person could hear you -- candidly, yet with charity. Shane Hayes
Today's challenge is the only one that need concern you. Meet it well. Shane Hayes
View all vicissitudes as a challenge to your good nature.
11/12/2007 – Email to David J. Callans, M.D., my electrophysiologist at Penn
This heart of mine is even more moody and erratic than its owner. When I wrote to you on 10/31 I indicated that I wasn't having much trouble with a-fib but a good bit with atrial bi-geminy and tachycardia. Certainly the last couple of days I've been having some good old fashioned a-fib, of the rapid variety (which is often hard to distinguish from tachycardia). Being off all blood thinner, including aspirin, for a week has given me a new sense of vulnerability when a-fib hits. An eight-hour episode stopped just moments ago.
Last night I was standing up watching TV when I had a brief sensation that I might pass out. Very brief, maybe three seconds. I had another like that when sitting at lunch with friends on 10/26. I don't think I can attribute either experience to very low heart rate, which has been alleviated since you took me off the two beta-blockers. There may be no significance to those fleeting sensations, but again there may be. I would hate to look back and say, after a stroke, I should have seen this coming.
You have recommended more than once that I have either a second pulmonary-vein ablation or a pacemaker. Since I've not been having much trouble on the slow-rate side lately, but a good bit on the rapid side, a pacemaker does not seem indicated. A second ablation does, much as I hate to think of it. Do you agree?...
If you still think another ablation is advisable, how soon should I ideally have it, and how soon could you schedule it?
11/20/2007 – Email to George McLane (commenting on an email with photos of sectively pretty Republican women and selectively unpretty Democratic women, captioned “Why Most Men Are Republicans”)
A weighty argument. But the Republicans in this administration and Congress have proved so incompetent and politically unprincipled, that I feel myself driven into the arms of unappealing Democrats.
I know they’re all deliberately bad photos of Democratic women, but has Streisand come to that? The years are cruel!
There are many positions of Hillary’s I find hard to swallow, but it shouldn’t bother me that she’s so damned broad in the hips. Golda Meir was no pinup girl, nor was the Iron Lady of Britain. Bhutto was beautiful yet reputedly corrupt. If Hillary’s likely to make better decisions than George Bush, get us out of Iraq, keep us out of other wars, improve our image abroad, save social security, and balance the budget, I guess her extra pounds are Bill’s problem, not mine.
I know her healthcare plan will be expensive, but it may be less costly than W’s military pugnacity and fiscal insanity.
7/11/2009 – Email to John Federico
Thank God I’m okay. Busy every minute. Away week before last to MD, DC, and VA. Caught up some this week. Away next week to Rayner’s in Chicago.
Am reordering my financial life, what’s left of it. Have been stopped out of everything. All in cash now and will so remain unless and until there’s another crash, or at least a severe decline in the market. It’s too risky at these levels, given what’s out there. It may rally another 20% from here, but to me the upside potential seems outweighed by the downside risk. I can’t afford to lose another penny and stay retired. Not even sure I can afford retirement as is; will have to analyze and calculate when time permits.
Just heard the average baby boomer has seen a 35% decline in his net worth. Mine has been 38% (all since 1/6/09) but I’m a dozen years older than those boomers and can afford it less. Less time to snap back, and paychecks are a thing of the past (I hope). Have found a little bank that pays me 2% on a checking account, and I’ll move as much cash there as I can, when wiring arrangements are set up between them and Fidelity Investments. 2% seems laughable, but Fidelity money funds are paying between 0.14% and 0.51%, so it’s relative. To think I, the hot day-trader, have come to this.
I’m wading into a new novel. Not the third in the Pavone series but a totally new one I’m starting from scratch. Plotting usually takes me at least a year, and I finish that before I draft page one, so it’s a literary zygote. But like an expectant father I’m already fond of it, sight unseen.
I’ll always find time for personal emails, but can’t keep up with the fascinating political repartee I used to enjoy. (Continue copying me, though.)
You say you’ve had a lot happening. Give us a clue – how are you doing medically, to begin with? Any date set for your return?
Sometimes the best way to “overcome” a thing is to duck round it as deviously as you can, and then forget it. (Grudges, for example.)
Grudges are heavy things. It wearies one to bear them.
Of all the useful habits men can form I think the most widely neglected is the habit of growing. Shane Hayes
3/12/2012 – Email to some fellow admirers of the late John Federico
Just remembering an anniversary. Our esteemed friend John Federico died one year ago today. Attached below is an email I sent him on what I feared would be -- and in fact was -- his last birthday. I think what I said there reflects how we all remember that extraordinary man.
His family and the Andiarios attended a Mass said for him yesterday.
There’s no chance he’ll be forgotten. He was literally unforgettable.
[After a standard birthday greeting the email said:]
You are sui generis, my friend.
A bon vivant to end bon vivants.
A conversationalist nonpareil.
A swashbuckling romantic.
A spellbinding raconteur.
A canny investor.
A radical theorist
with an relentlessly curious mind.
A uniquely valued friend to many.
One of Capri's proudest scions.
A distinguished Philadelphian.
A Class of '56er with singular class.
A brave confronter of adversity.
3/12/2012 – Email from Peter Federico, John’s brother
He will not be forgotten because of the quality of those who loved him.
3/13/2012 -- Email from Peter Krok
They are very fitting lines about John.
I for one cannot delete his emails. They will stay with me as long as I can keep them.
I am honored to call John a friend, and I will add he is a lasting friend.
3/13/2012 – Email from Jack McGowan
HAD NOT SEEN THIS NOTE [referring to the birthday email] - HAD TO DONE BY A TALENTED LITERARY TYPE.
He was one of a kind – woven by his background, experiences and travels. HE CERTAINLY WAS ONE OF THE “PERSONALITIES” OF MY LIFE.
3/13/2012 – Email to Jack McGowan
Yes, Jack, he was one of the Personalities of my life too. I just thought of a more lasting tribute. I dedicated my new book to him in an unusual way. Check it out under The Believing Agnostic tab on my website shanehayes.org. Hit that tab and scroll down under the endorsements and the title page to the dedication. Now I have an added reason for wanting it published.
Don't try to experience yourself. That is the ultimate folly. You are a secret that only others may know. Shane Hayes
Why is it that we can more easily fit large people in our hearts than small ones? Shane Hayes
A fool said to Life: "Make me happy."
And Life replied: "Fool, I have neither the power nor the inclination. But you have both." Shane Hayes
This first posting fell in my lap yesterday (3/7/12). My friend Peter Krok emailed me a poem for which he was just awarded a prize. Pete has had hundreds of poems published in a variety of periodicals and anthologies, and he's the author of a book of poems
-- often nostalgic, spare, wistful, and pondering -- Looking for an Eye (FootHills Publishing, 2008).
Because of his row-house roots and urban preoccupations he has been called "The Red Brick Poet." Pete works for the federal government, where he was one of my clients before I retired as a staff attorney. At his fiftieth birthday party he introduced me to a lovely woman named Mary Ellen, who is now my wife. I won't say how long ago that party was, but more than a couple of years.
In his 3/7/12 email to several of us Pete said:
I forgot to mention at the gathering yesterday... that my poem "Randall McCloy: Sago Mine (January 2, 2006)" was a prize winner at the yearly Ardmore Library poetry contest and that I am invited to the Ardmore Town Hall to read the poem and get an honorarium on Sunday, March 18. It is nice to get the infrequent good news in one's life. I thought I would share the poem with friends.
Strong poem, Pete! I just copied it to show to Mary Ellen. Simple, realistic, understated, colloquial, genuinely tragic -- yet with an element of stunning deliverance. Shows how men of sturdy faith confront death. You deserve the prize and the honorarium, and the poem deserves a wide audience. Congratulations!
By the way, I have an embryonic website, shanehayes.org. One of its pages is captioned "Letters and Aphorisms." I haven't posted anything on that page yet. With your permission I'll post this email message and the poem it comments on. Let me know if you'd want that. It won't get you a slew of readers but it will get you a few.
Pete consented. Here is his poem, this one not urban at all:
RANDALL McCLOY: THE SAGO MINE (January 2, 2006)
I keep hearing Junior Toler’s words,
We’ll see you on the other side.
We got into the pit that morning
Traveled two miles into the Sago earth
Then there came a blast
The mine filled up with smoke
We could barely breathe
We tried going back
But there was no going back.
The wall of gas was just too thick
We found a sledgehammer
And kept pounding
The mine bolts and plates
We never heard an echo above
The hammering just took more
Of our air so we stopped.
The gas kept drowning us
We felt weaker and weaker
We lost the feeling in our legs
I don’t know better how to describe it
The fumes just crept through our lungs
Into our body and our minds.
When we began to accept it was the end
Junior led us in the Sinner’s Prayer
Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You,
And to do Your will for the rest of my life.
In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.
Then he said we ought to write
Our goodbyes to our loved ones
Jackie Weaver was the last person
I remember speaking to
He said if it was our time to go
Then God’s will would be fulfilled
As the others drifted off
One by one into the wave of sleep
The room grew still I lay so close
To the earth I nearly kissed it I told myself
Lie low and breathe shallow and slow
I have no idea how much time went by
Before I passed out and they found me
I was the only miner left still breathing
I keep asking why and I can’t explain it
I just keep hearing Junior’s words,
We’ll see you on the other side.
Last summer I had something that was very beautifully alive. In September it died quite suddenly. For three months I carried the corpse around with me. At last the burden became so great that I went to Tampa and buried it. (December 1963) Shane Hayes
Since Athena, I have only to close my eyes and I begin to see. Shane Hayes
Of Mona, I remember that I loved her, but not how I loved her. Of Athena, I remember both. Shane Hayes