Poor Will’s Almanack for the third week of Early Spring.
On this date many years ago, Buttercup the family bulldog and I were walking along the river into Mint Hollow. It was a rainy and windy afternoon, full of the scent of the thawing ground. I was thinking, while I walked, about spring, and about Lent, and Easter coming, and then about my childhood Irish Catholic fasting and abstinence this time of year.
I practiced the yearly Catholic ritual until my early twenties. Then I took up instead something of Bertrand Russell's philosophy expressed so exquisitely in "A Free Man's Worship."
In Russell's vision of humanity cut off from the eternal, I found a brave defiance against death, and a noble alternative to an intrusive Church. I embraced his gallant earthly heaven, and I tried to become his heroic human who, having given up vain hopes of a demeaning paradise, worshipped “at the shrine that his own hands have built, undismayed by the empire of chance.”
Against the powerful common sense of Russell's position, and the majesty of his ideal, however, my childhood rhythms have returned. I find myself carefully tracking the old Catholic seasons with my outdated missal. I say the rosary now, and I invoke the saints the way my mother taught me.
It is not a social religion that I have, not anything I can pass on or down to anyone. It seems rather the triumph of emotion and illogic, the victory of an unshakable habit, possibly even of faith, over transitory reason.
That day years ago, the rain turned to sleet in Mint Hollow, and then there was thunder, the first I'd heard all year. The wind came up, and then snow started to fall in flakes so huge and so thick they hid the river.
Buttercup, the bulldog, jumped at the noise, and her ears went back. She ran to me, scooted off up the path, then zoomed back, confused and frightened.
I knelt down and held her to me, stroked her head and rubbed her back. I told her what she heard was neither the reproach of a wrathful Irish God nor the ghastly roar of Bertrand Russell's fatal and indifferent universe. It was instead, I reassured her, the first wild and mighty call of the rising Christ of Spring.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the fourth week of Early Spring. In the meantime, walk the river in the thaws.