“Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” G.K. Chesterton
I heard her laughter before I saw her. It floated above the night air of the Ohio Valley with its unabashed happiness, and joy. The laughter blew in the wind, and met my ears, like a song from the gods, speaking to the heart of long ago days in the garden of childhood. I looked about with expectation, and there she was: a tiny girl, though, now, well into mid-life; but still a girl. If Gilbert were alive, I am certain he would cast her in one of his fantastic tales, or perhaps, a remake of Manalive, with her as the lead. She would be Womanalive; for that is what she is, a Woman Alive. She is the epitome of a Catholic woman: she is fearless, has been in constant trouble (for she is a Friend of the Cross, the Cross has been her companion since her childhood), and, yet, she is absurdly happy (G.K.C.). I know this all to be true as we were roommates long ago, in a house off the road from our glorious Alma Mater, named for the even-more-glorious, St. Francis; which, by the way, is why we had gathered on that fair evening: the souls who had walked that land in their youth, books in hand, dreams in the breast, in the tradition of that long ago living Manalive, St. Francis of Assisi, had gathered to remember, and to reconnect.
And, the highlight of such reconnections was speaking to this firecracker. I told her I thought of her as such, a firecracker, and that Laughter broke out again, probably the happiest melody heard across the stern valley since she had last graced it. That is when it occurred to me that she would make the perfect Womanalive. She, indeed, does possess the main characteristic of this role, first brought to us as Innocent Smith, the original Manalive, whose main goal in life was to remind the living that they were not dead yet: to remind them that they must break out of that living-despair which the modern man thinks is the inevitable view of the world. The despair- ridden view is the atheistic view of the world; a nihilistic, soul stealing, view of the world which is the inevitable view of the world without our Savior, and his Mother, the Immaculate Conception. Yes, this firecracker fits the bill, and if Gilbert were alive, his pen would be at it. I think he might start this piece with one of his sentiments from the original Manalive on the importance of poets, or Womenalive:
“I don’t deny,’ he said, `that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say that at certain strange epochs it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, actually to remind men that they are not dead yet.” (from Manalive)
I would say we are in such an epoch, an epoch where we need to remember that we are yet alive, as Dame Edith Sitwell would say, to remember that we are walking fires, we are all leaves.
So, today, I send a greeting to the Firecracker in this little essay, and thank her for reminding us all that we are yet living, that God exists, that there is a land from which we have come, and to where we are going, and it is a living land, a land of brave-hearts, and noble souls: the land of the Living in the Kingdom of God.
St. Francis, pray for us.