Thursday, June 7, 2012


If everything is just an abbreviation of or for something else, I wonder what it is that is not an abbreviation.

One of my favorite descriptions of news reporting -- one that I can't help hoping I will one day apply to my life -- is, "Stand up. Speak up. And shut up." Much of what passes for expertise in human discourse is simply an indicator that the expert has yet to get a handle on what s/he is talking about. It's not that all the blahblahblahblahblah is not heart-felt or even informed, but the unwillingness to sum things up, make your point and move on ... well, everyone's got a garrulous or self-important aunt, I suppose.

Yesterday, in a talk-the-talk-vs.-walk-the-walk moment, I found myself in the front row of garrulous-aunt-dom when trying to write a letter-to-the-editor of the New York Times, a sometimes-well-thought-of newspaper in the United States. The springboard for my wish was a column by Maureen Dowd about the latest example of Vatican heavy-handedness in its treatment of its constituency ... a smackdown of Sister Margaret Farley, a 77-year-old academic, who had stepped outside Vatican approval ratings with her book about sexuality in a Christian setting.

The Vatican's disapproval has sent Farley's book sales skyrocketing and reminded me of Mark Twain's letter to the Boston Public Library in which he thanked this former arbiter of good taste for banning one of his books and thus assuring another five thousand in sales.

Farley's book and the brouhaha it has fired up is just another example of the Roman Catholic Church's handling of the priest sexual abuse scandal -- a whiteout of information that shows vast swaths of harm attended by equally vast deceptions and cover-ups by the Vatican. (Here's a pretty good example.)

The vileness of this arena is dispiriting and yet, for me, it is like the old joke, "Don't think of a purple cow:" I would love to be shut of it and yet my mind cannot avert its eyes and I create more of what I would love not to think about.

I looked up the rules and regs for writing a letter to the New York Times. Letters had to be fewer than 150 words, needed to make reference to an article in the New York Times, and required the name and address of the writer. So ... in order to write such a letter, the writer had to both set the stage and offer his opinion. It was both understandable and infuriating. Welcome to the world of tweets and twits. No doubt the paper is inundated with reader opinions, but who could abbreviate the particulars and ramifications of priest sexual abuse?

I was pissed off enough about the topic to give it a try ... a try despite the fact that the New York Times was highly unlikely to print my tweet-sized, twit-sized bias. But I writhed and swore under the strictures. Who the fuck could say anything sensible or complete in 150 words ... to a newspaper that was top-lofty in its news presentations (a former reporter once said that in order to be successful at the New York Times, all a writer had to do was mention Alexis de Tocqueville in the third paragraph).... aaarrrgggh!

But I was moved enough to try ... try despite almost certain failure, try because not speaking out was somehow not an option for me. OK, so it sucked ... do it anyway. Sharpen your focus, do your best to be as clear and honest as you can ... do it anyway.

So I did and today the effort still lingers in my mind like some case of halitosis. The garrulous aunt of my mind is still offended. Stand up. Speak up. And shut up. The rule, it appears, is one I am willing to apply to others but not to myself. I already know what my opinion is, but my self-important need to express it to others overrides any civility I might possess: My thoughts and analyses are important enough to rattle on and on about.

Thank God for blogs like this ... the repositories of those, like me, who can't seem to keep their barf to themselves.

I'll post the letter after waiting a couple of days. One of the NYT rules is that letters cannot be offered or printed elsewhere.

An abbreviation, however inept... 150 words on the dot.

But what is not an abbreviation?

PS. Since I've had no word from the NYT, here is the (however inept) letter:

To the editor:

As a Zen Buddhist, I try to steer clear of inter-religious debate, but Maureen Dowd's (6/5/12)  lucid commentary on the Vatican smackdown of Sister Margaret Farley's treatise on sexuality shook the cobwebs loose.

As a human being -- never mind the religious overlays -- I think I am not alone in wanting to ask if the
Vatican ever looks in the mirror. The abuses. The cover-ups. "These are PEOPLE who are getting hurt," I want to say, "some painfully young, some aging and suffering from a wounded past, some gay, some straight, some men, some women ... what the hell is the matter with you?!"

And in that question lies the only probable answer I can find: Hell is precisely what's the matter; hell is the only answer that computes -- a self-imposed hell that is then imposed on others.

It's enough to make a strong (wo)man weep.


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