Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I'm sorry to be a few years late

You may have heard the plunk, plunk, plunk of my marbles answering the call of gravity. I’ve been losing my marbles ever since I was diagnosed with MSA, known to the public as Multiple System Atrophy and to insiders as Marbles Slipping Away.

Dr. Freud never found a treatment for downsizing, which requires hauling furniture, documents and collectibles out of basements, attics, crawl spaces, closets, garages and sheds, where they were stored decades ago. The person engaged in downsizing decides what to give away, what to throw away and, what to sell and what to keep.

I live and downsize with my daughter and son-in-law. As I sifted through thousands of papers I wondered whether they had reproduced themselves, like a copy machine powered by rabbits.

I recognized a copy of L’Osservatore Romano’s weekly English language edition of January 14, 1991. I had saved it because it included a two-page feature about its editor, Msgr. John Muthig, whose death during a holiday visit to his home in New Jersey was an unexpected shock.

John, a brother in Christ, was a layman when I signed him up for his first newspaper job. It was at The Catholic Review in Baltimore. He was a reporter at what was then called NC, the National Catholic News Service, serving with distinction in the Rome bureau while I was NC director and editor in chief in Washington.
He followed that with two years at the Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. He flew to Chicago for the wedding of my loving landlords. Later he visited the family in Orlando. We didn’t know it, but it was a goodbye visit of a gifted friend/priest/journalist/diplomat.

A couple of days ago I emailed a long-time friend of John to offer my copy of the Vatican newspaper. She accepted and mentioned blog comments she had left for me in the past.

When I was a kid we all had bags of marbles, including agates, which were maybe twice the size of ordinary marbles. When I read about those comments it was like being sideswiped on the head with a bag of agates. I was humbled—or do I mean humiliated?—to discover scores of comments on my blog, some of them several years old, a couple of them subject to erasure because of vocabulary flaws.

I’ll order a copy of Blogs for Dummies. Meanwhile I offer apologies to you. I’m sorry about my oversight and my undersight. Right now I hear voices. They’re saying Get a move on.

© A. E. P. (Ed) Wall


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

I plan to get dressed before I leave

I have it on good authority (Ecclesiastes 5:15) that I arrived at Jamestown’s Jones Memorial Hospital naked and without even a copy of Aquinas or Augustine. I expect to depart better dressed than that but without Cardinal Newman bound in leather or even a book of coupons for a church lottery.  I'm trying now to give away the last of my books, including such things as sturdy Library of America editions of five Faulkner novels, four American poetry collections, even  couple of Emerson plus Grant's dandy autobiography.

When I told Sister Bernard Lynch, O.P., about the vigorous downsizing in progress here at the home of my daughter and son-in-law, Drs. Marie and Mark Veldman, she gave downsizing her blessing. It keeps us on our toes, she said, something those of us with gout cannot deny.

She spoke also about the value of disposing of things. Jesus is good at this. Nowhere in scripture is Jesus carrying a book bag, steadying a Dell on his lap or locking a suitcase. The man who could have everything paid no excess baggage fees.

Sally and I sold our house in Orlando a few years ago, but we had to give away the memories. Memories that looked like pictures, or clocks, books. or dishes, were swept away in sunny yard sales and too often in trash collection trucks, the storage of last resort.

Then we moved into a new century and a new address, a cheerful condo in suburban Chicago. Even the neighbors were cheerful.

We were proudly downsized when we left Orlando. Gone were drawers full of anonymous keys, forgotten nails and toys for the cat. Gone were boots stored for the next hurricane, which never came, and gone were the mouldy batteries from the same storeroom, chisel-resistant dried-out shoe polish, belts too long or too short, a cuffless suit from World War II. Any smugness we felt came from knowing we had filled our drawers, cabinets and crawl spaces before the hoarders got started.

My grandpa filled cabinets with his collected treasures, Not many collectors could show off a dry coconut brought back to Jamestown after one of the winters he operated a horse car in Palm Beach. He worked at the original Breakers hotel, one of Henry Flagler’s places. It burned down in 1903, a year before my mom was born.

My dad was a collector, too. He filled our dining room with a pipe organ he bought from a church. Now I have my own collections, but the coconuts and pipe organs stop here. So do the memories of William Sheldon Olmstead, horse car driver in Palm Beach and streetcar motorman in Jamestown, enthusiastic reader of newspapers wherever he was. I was allowed to look at them, but I had to leave no creases, tears or smudges.

Now my own collections must expire, the books and the trinkets displayed in my own cabinet. My long experience with the Catholic Church prepares my head to celebrate my multiple system atrophy, to decorate it and absorb its gifts of dizziness, aches and tumbles. My long experience with the Episcopal Church reminds me that the celebration should be dignified.

I don’t think one answer satisfies all. The Eternal allows me three children and six grandchildren, and each one is unique. Talents in music, games, math and politics are not the same. Their purpose and character and good looks are closer to the same.

My own purpose in trying to unload things and memories of things begins in the most ordinary of ways. We’re moving from a big house to a more modest one. I am moving in expectation of simpler management of my life and time to explore some of the hints of what looks like the impossible, a timeless future. I’m embarrassed by the appearance of name-dropping, but the son of God is a mentor.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Getting ready to make a move

David’s t-shirt was boldly lettered Wall University. David, my son; Toni, my daughter-in-law; and Jacob, my grandson flew in from Seattle to celebrate some March birthdays. Jacob turned a tall twenty, while his cousin Matt Veldman turned a tall twenty-two. Doris, my mom, was born 112 years ago. March is the month for my ninety-first, and for the birthdays of Ernie Bennett, Rachel Murphy, Kate Graham and other nifty people.

The t-shirt that began as a family joke had new vibes this time, because Trump University has become a sort of national joke. David and family stayed at Chicago’s Trump Tower two or three times. I was never there, but I did sleep in Trump’s lavish Palm Beach home before he did. His resort began as the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her husband, stockbroker E. F. Hutton, invited me there when I was a young reporter in the 1940s. I still feel my embarrassment when I learned that the butler had unpacked my unsuitable suitcases. Hutton apologized that only a few of the servants had arrived from his New York estate. He was making do with what he called a skeleton staff of 16 instead of the normal 40.

Hutton never ran for president but he did try to buy the U.S. Post Office system. He thought he could make a profit on all those 3-cent stamps. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a noted stamp collector, would not play.

The mail carrier brought me another t-shirt this week. It marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of Chaminade University in Honolulu. I was chairman of the Board of Regents of what was Chaminade College of Honolulu for three years in the early 1960s. I was editor of the daily newspaper on the Big Island when my Chaminade work began. One of the corporate bosses, who thought Catholics were a menace, warned me to attend Chaminade meetings on Oahu at my own expense. Catholics were free to pray, he acknowledged, but Nobody was listening.

What a different world that was. Some feared that if John F. Kennedy were elected president, the pope would be his boss. Some now fear that Donald Trump will be elected and be his own boss.

Before long I’ll be posting a new address. Marie and Mark are taking another step in downsizing. When five kids and their friends were living here, the house and the pool and the gallon jugs of milk didn’t seem so big. We’re going to relocate in another part of Orland Park, to a house that’s just the right size. When I left my condo a couple of years ago I gave away more than a thousand books, and it was no more difficult that having part of my brain amputated. Now I’m relocating a few remaining titles. I wrote The Spirit of Cardinal Bernardin, and it was published in three editions. I contributed a chapter to a book by Candida Lund, chancellor of Dominican University, who awarded me an honorary doctorate long ago, and I was editor in chief of the American Catholic Who’s Who for a while. 

The other day I received a royalty check in the amount of $2.95. The company had sold one copy of my little book about my early experience with OPCA, olivopontocerebellar atrophy, which the medical field found so hard to spell that they changed the name of the disease to multiple system atrophy. It is still incurable, but now it is pronounceable. The Big Wave, my tsunami paperback, sold 40,000 copies and then disappeared.

Most of the books I read these days are on my Kindle. My latest Kindle is called a Fire, and I’m confident Amazon knows why. The Fire is one of the miracles of our times, a sort of sub-miracle inspired by the computer.

Without Fire and Dell and H-P and the like, life would be a cold, not cool, experience for those of us with multiple system atrophy. MSA doesn’t yield readily to a patient’s relationship with computers. It is the mother of typos, and derails a train of thought, word by fading word, before the writer can get to the end of a sentence. Dizziness is a totally inadequate word to describe the swirling brainspin of MSA.

When the next chapter of this benevolent blog appears will depend on when we move, and how much movement MSA will allow at the keyboard. My favorite but elderly desktop computer has crashed. The Dell laptop in front of me now is dandy, but when the desktop died it took my PageMaker with it. Adobe’s last major release of PageMaker was in 2001, when I bought mine from Best Buy. It was a happy choice for 15 years.



Thursday, January 28, 2016

The shuttle explodes

The space shuttle Challenger streaked into the Atlantic sky, then burst into a flaming flash. My wife and I were watching from the lawn in front of our home in Titusville, Florida. We looked in stunned wonder, not wanting to believe what we saw on that 28th day of January, 1986.

The pastor of Holy Spirit Church in the nearby town of Mims, where many space workers worshipped,  asked me to write something to be read at Mass on Sunday. This is it.

From almost any point in our parish --from the lawns in front of our homes, from the windows of classrooms, from the asphalt surface of parking lots —we were able to watch the shuttle Challenger head for a new conquest of space. But just 74 seconds later the conquest exploded before our eyes, the lives of seven very special Americans disintegrated in a horror of flame.

From that moment our parish was not the same, our lawns and classrooms and even our parking lots were not the same, because the words of St. Peter’s First Epistle moved out of the pages of Scripture and into our lives on a chilly January morning: “Do not be surprised, beloved, that a trial by fire is occurring in your midst.”

Our Catholic faith is a religion of the future. We can understand the convictions, scientific and philosophical and perhaps religious, which inspired the seven space heroes to board the Challenger shuttle for a flight into the future. They were explorers for all of us, just as they were neighbors to all of us.

We Christians, blessed by a God of eternal life, know that we have a proper role in the world, a role that encourages us to understand the nature of the universe and to enter into that universe with confidence. We understand that even as we live each day we are dying a bit each day until we reach the final goal, which comes so unexpectedly and never quite in the manner of our own choosing, comes as it did to our neighbors Gregory B. Jarvis, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith and the shuttle commander Francis “Dick” Scobee.

It is part of our role in this world to respond to God’s many gifts, using those gifts to establish within the world a measure of love, of dignity, of simple goodness. Here where we live and pray, in this part of the world known as the Space Coast, we enjoy a profound sense of the awesome power of the Almighty to engage the men and women of his creation in a course of growth, a course that leads to new horizons. We live life fully because we know that there are great wonders ahead.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

You have a plan? Or a plan to get one?

Elderly people, especially those diagnosed with diseases that do not yet have a cure, often plan for simpler lifestyles. That may begin with extra space in the garage because driving a car is over. Life is said to be simpler without driving to the supermarket, church, doctor’s office, movies, post office or whatever. It is good luck to have numerous relatives and friends who like to drive their relatives and friends.

Progressive diseases are not uncommon in what preachers, comedians and manufacturers of wheelchairs call the golden years. It is said that elderly people sometimes are like children to their own adult children. But children grow and become more active, more independent.

For many elderly there are times of planning to give up the house with the extra bedrooms, and move into a condo. Plans are made for life in a retirement center, or with family, or maybe in a nursing home. Each of these moves is likely to be constricting, a tightening of belts, books, television sets and furniture. Each works best when it doesn’t just happen, but is anticipated.

So it is a sign of more or less normal mental health and self-awareness for someone past 90, with a disease the textbooks call incurable, to think how to make the most of changes ahead. If a person eventually has to spend most of the time in bed, what few things should be at hand? For me that would include the latest version of Amazon’s Kindle/Fire, which is a hand-held library of books, movies and TV shows,  plus email and other electronic treats. In my greed I’d want to have a laptop computer as well.

All kind of fun and all kinds of sorrow pass through our brains on their way to showing up as a smile, a smell, a flavor, a tear, a sound. One reason prayer means so much is that it kindles love and tilts the brain toward the smiling side. My brain is shrinking, my doc says, and my wristwatch hanging loosely says that my arm is shrinking, too. Shrinking brains and shrinking arms need exercise, and exercising even a leaky brain can be even more fun than flexing skinny wrists.

Suppose something about a disease rules out the ordinary use of fingers to strike keys and buttons? Suppose talking becomes difficult or impossible, and swallowing a struggle? Thinking ahead ought to be an adventure, a stretching of the imagination. Finding out how others have handled the same issues offers satisfaction to the planner and those who embrace the planner. It doesn’t hurt to consider the original Planner, the Eternal, who alone knows what it all means.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Silent crash

It was a silent crash again, just like the first time. I was rocked by a computer crash a couple of decades ago. This time I could read the signs; I knew it was coming. But there’s something so radical about a computer crash that the silence is not normal. The machine ought to growl or bark as it chews up years of memory, so the yelling of the user will not be so stark.

Those of us who have been diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) are philosophical about this kind of thing, learning as we do that the joys and debits we save may erase themselves, every trophy a potential atrophy.

All diseases are bullies. Like the armed bullies in current headlines, they remind us that all of our plans are subject to change. A crash could even be for my own good, an intervention by a sort of angelic editor--admittedly a rare description of an editor. Such a supereditor, coming out of his or her (its?) black hole to screen the product, glancing at the million words I wrote for periodicals, books and letters, scrunches a blue pencil through every line. Words a writer inspires an editor retires.

Much of the stuff that was wiped out on my senior computer is still available on the laptop I’m using now, and I think more is stashed away in backup. I’ll check it out. MSA lets me think about one thing at a time, although I still walk and eschew puns at the same time. But it takes me two hours to watch “60 Minutes.”

About this time of the year, when Chicago gets its first snowfall of the season, I have in recent years begun my production of Christmas cards. MSA and its co-conspirator, Arthritis, ruled out handmade holiday cards even before the crash. I believe in Santa Claus as first among seasonal apps, and I wish you a Merry Christmas. Christ gives meaning to everything, even including MSA. Christ gives power to prayer.

This was not always my view. When I was 6, in the second year of the Great Depression, I was shocked to find that Santa had gone wild. His idea of Christmas presents was some new union suits, knickers, long johns with flaps, and a nightgown. I met Santa at the church Christmas celebration, and was reassured when he gave each kid an orange and the thin curlicue candy I still associate with Christmas trees. I did not recognize Santa, who was my costumed grandpa stuffed with a secret pillow.

Nobody, not even Google, knew anything about MSA in those days. Nobody knows enough about it today, but a cure is evolving from research. Pam Bower, Vera James, Philip Fortier, Larry Kellerman and others have generated support for research via The MSA Coalition. I’m one of many who value the work of the volunteers and the professionals who are going to find a cure for the disease I call MSA, or Honey I Shrunk the Brain.

There’s nothing like an incurable, progressive disease to stir thoughts about the dependency of everything that lives. Not a person, not a plant or an insect probing a plant, not even the wind or the water, has a life independent of all life. Anxious patients and generous caregivers tend to ponder, to meditate on, the purpose of the living, loving Eternal.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Catholic New World /
Dolores Madlener with Pope
John Paul II
November 15 - 28, 2015
Dolores Madlener puts down her pen and paper
By Michelle Martin
Staff Writer

The following is an updated version of a story about Dolores Madlener that originally ran on Sept. 28, 2008, on the occasion of Madlener’s 30th anniversary working for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s newspaper. Madlener, 86, retired Nov. 1.

Over the years, she profiled every parish in the archdiocese, spread “benevolent gossip” in Church Clips, introduced readers to dozens of priests and religious in “Five Minutes with Father” and “Conversations with the Consecrated” and spent decades doing the most tedious of jobs, compiling the “Around the Archdiocese” calendar listings.

Her presence in these pages will be greatly missed.

In early September of 1978, Pope John Paul I was in the midst of his 28-day papacy, Cardinal John Cody led the Archdiocese of Chicago and A.E.P. “Ed” Wall, the editor of The Chicago Catholic, as this newspaper was then known, was in need of a secretary.

Dolores Madlener, meanwhile, was working at the American Medical Association headquarters in Chicago.

Madlener, who celebrated her 30th anniversary working for the archdiocesan newspaper on Sept. 11, 2008, said she can thank Father William P. Murphy, then pastor of Queen of Martyrs Parish in Evergreen Park, for pointing her toward the job of editor’s secretary.

“We both thought I’d be a perfect fit, except Father Murphy was never wrong,” said Madlener, who put together the “Around the Archdiocese” events listings, wrote “Church Clips” and “Five Minutes with Father” in every issue.

“I was active in my parish as CCD coordinator at the time. Actually I was involved in my parish since it was founded. Father knew I had good secretarial skills and he knew I took the church seriously.”

Madlener was no stranger to the pages of the paper. She was a loyal subscriber, she said, “and I wrote letters to the editor at the time. Usually complaining.”

Wall evidently agreed with Murphy, because he hired Madlener and even had her coming in after-hours to help out after she gave notice at the AMA.

Madlener noticed the difference immediately.

“We think there’s a bureaucracy in the church, but it was nothing compared to the AMA,” she said. “The ‘hierarchy’ at AMA differed from the hierarchy I found on the fourth floor in the Pastoral Center. It’s really been the people as well as the subject matter that’s kept me here. AMA was so impersonal compared to the archdiocese.”

The waves of young journalists who have worked at the newspaper have kept her young, Madlener said, and each of the six editors — not to mention four archbishops — have made enough changes to keep things fresh.
“As the years went by, I don’t think I’ve ever felt the passing of the time,” she said. “I try to live in the present moment. When I do, it doesn’t feel like 10 years, doesn’t seem like 20 years. It’s like a river, I guess.”

It’s been decades since the Catholic New World editor had a secretary. When Wall moved to Florida after Madlener had been on the job for 10 years, she continued as secretary for a time, handling correspondence and signing her name and title, “secretary to the editor.”

“But I realized with no editor, that position was going to be obsolete,” she said.
So she transferred her skills from the electric typewriter to the newsroom computer system and volunteered to take on the “most tedious job in the newsroom” — putting together “Around the Archdiocese.”

But Madlener did not find it so tedious.

“I had been active in PR in my parish for years,” she said. “I knew how important it was to A&R (Altar and Rosary Society) women to get their card parties and craft fairs in. They were like my sisters ... even though I wished they’d remember to put in the phone number or address so I wouldn’t have to check back.”

Madlener also continued doing secretarial work for successive editors. When Sister of Providence Cathy Campbell came on board, Madlener was taking minutes at an editorial advisory board meeting when the talk turned to perennial worries about circulation. Someone joked that it was too bad the paper couldn’t run a horoscope column, or better yet, a gossip column.

Inspiration struck, and Madlener went home and wrote a prototype of a “benevolent gossip” column, and “Church Clips” was born. It debuted Aug. 5, 1988.

Over the years, Madlener also took on a regular question-and-answer column similar to Chicago newsman Bob Herguth’s “Chicago Profile” column in the Sun-Times. It was similar enough that when she was asked to do “Noteworthy,” Madlener felt like she was imitating, and called Herguth to ask if it was all right to copy his format and say, “By the way, how do you do it?”

“He was very gracious, and said people copy things all the time,” Madlener said. “And he told me how he went about it.”

Later, when Madlener asked Herguth to consider doing a profile on then-assistant editor Mary Claire Gart, he turned the tables and asked to do one of her, instead.

She also profiled each parish in Chicago, in “Parish Pride,” and, in 2007, started a feature to help Catholics get to know their clergy, called “Five Minutes with Father.” This year, that has become “Conversations with the Consecrated” in honor of the Year of Consecrated Life.

“I really think ‘Five Minutes with Father’ is my favorite feature,” she said in 2008. “It’s touched me the most. I always start by asking the priest to lead us in prayer. I’m impressed by their generosity of spirit, to be so open. I hope that by getting to know them better, our readers will be moved to pray even harder for our priests.”

Madlener maintained a close relationship with those readers, many of whom feel as if they know her.

“I just feel about my readers that I know each one of them, one at a time,” she said. “In a social situation, I don’t know NASCAR from ‘Desperate Housewives.’ But if you say what parish you’re from, we can go from there. … I know people by the letters they write to me and the phone calls they make. I especially like when I put something in the column asking, ‘If you’d like a copy of the Angelus, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope.’

“Then I get all these really nice notes from people who share what’s in their hearts. And I write them a note thanking them for subscribing. Without them, where would we be? We’d be writing this in our diary, instead of in a newspaper.”

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