Thursday, June 01, 2006

“An instinct to see life in a comic light…”


While reading Jack Beatty’s terrific biography of Boston Mayor James Michael Curley, The Rascal King, The Life and Times of James Michael Curley – An Epic of Urban Politics and Irish America, I came upon this quote from William V. Shannon, who was known in the early part of the 20th century for having written a monumental sociological analysis of the Irish in America.
”Supreme egotism and utter seriousness are necessary for the greatest accomplishment, and these the Irish find hard to sustain; at some point, the instinct to see life in a comic light becomes irresistible, and ambition falls before it.”

The instinct to see life in a comic light becomes irresistible… Speaking for myself, sometimes I feel like the venerable Mr. Shannon has me pinned down like a moth to a corkboard.

My Italian grandmother grew up in the fabled multi-ethnic neighborhood of Boston called the West End (which disappeared in the urban renewal projects of the 1950’s). She married a neighbor who was an Irishman, much to her father’s consternation. Her father, a one-legged self-made man who worked his way up from a shoe-shine box to owning a tenement, used to refer to my Irish grandfather as “The Statue”, presumably because he thought he stood around all day doing nothing… It wasn’t true, and it wasn't fair, but that’s how the tough old Neapolitan saw it.

My beloved grandmother was always challenging us to be better. When she passed away from pancreatic cancer in her late eighties, I remember the last thing she ever said to me. She rolled over, fixed me with her gaze, pointed her wizened old finger at me and said “procrastinator!” What a send-off, but you were right, Nan. I’m working on it. God Bless you. :-)

6 comments:

Paula said...

I like the Vincent image.It fits well with the post.
I think that we are conditioned to be "doers" by the society. People are evaluated according with their usefulness, with how much they produce. Thus we feel guilty for our moments of meditation, contemplation, dreaming and even prayer.:-).

Jeff said...

Hi Paula,

I like the Vincent image too. It's one of my favorite works of his. Which do you like better, this one or the original by Jean Francois Millet?

Yes, we always have to be doing, doing. No one has the patience to wait for anything anymore. It's hard to overestimate the way email has changed the nature of work, for instance.

I love my free time, my down time... I take it wherever and whenever I can get to it. I have all sorts of coping mechanisms to be a monk wherever I am. A contemplative in any space. :-)

Paula said...

I like Vincent better.It is more luminous.:-). I read recently "The Soon and Moon over Asissi" by Gerard Straub. It is a meditation-like book. He was touching this subject also (of doing, doing, doing).I posted about Gerry Straub but I want post more on his book.

Steve Bogner said...

Procrastination is one of my, no it's my biggest bad habit. It's one of those things I keep meaning to work on...

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff said...

It's one of those things I keep meaning to work on...

:-D

Steve,

Yeah, me too.. It's been on my list.

I meant to respond to your post last night, but...


:-)