Of Many Things

I pen these words during the octave of Easter and the onset of official spring. We had a long winter here on the East Coast, but trees at last brim with buds and the ground swells with a medley of new life—colorful blooms that like Easter itself renew our hope, lift our spirit and tell us to rejoice and be glad.

And glad we are about our Spring Books issue this year. It contains reviews of a potpourri of new titles in a variety of categories. The first book is a chronicle of the greatest achievements in American intellectual thought, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian William H. Goetzmann. Next out of the gate is the beloved and critically acclaimed poet Mary Oliver with a new collection of poems, permeated with her customary attentiveness to nature’s mysteries. Then comes a history of the papacy, by Roger Collins, a serious and stately book that is informative and illuminating (as well as occasionally entertaining).

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In her stirring memoir, Marilyn Lacey, of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, shares stories from her 25 years working with refugees, migrants and displaced persons on several continents. Her living out of God’s call is, as the book’s subtitle has it, a story of “God arriving in strangers.” The best-selling author Thomas Cahill has taken a break from his “Hinges of History” series and written a deeply moving account of a young black man on death row and the flawed Texas judicial system. Finally, a noteworthy book on the culture of punishment in the United States and what underlies our nation’s shameful record on cruelty.

Reading any or all of these books is a good way to kick-start your May activities.  One that is perhaps not widely known is “Be Kind to Animals Week,” from May 2 to 9. Our nation’s deep economic slump has prompted the neglect and abandonment of large numbers of both domestic and farm animals. The public is encouraged to report instances of animal abuse, if possible adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue and, above all, become informed about policies and legislation that bear on the problem.

Mother’s Day, most will agree, is the centerpiece of the month. One can thank Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905), a devout Christian who organized women’s work clubs during and after the Civil War. Her daughter Anna Jarvis dedicated her life to establishing a nationally recognized Mother’s Day (but she protested against the eventual “secularization” of the holiday). On this day we recognize the gifts we have received from our mothers, living or deceased. But we honor as well the gifts of all women who exercise a nurturing role in others’ lives: godmothers, older siblings, teachers, mentors.

The Fourth Commandment enjoins us to honor our parents always. But on this one particular day we focus on a lifetime of connection and memories, a bond that can never be broken—and we are glad and rejoice. We may pick a bunch of spring blooms, fashion a corsage for Mom and indulge her as queen for the day. (I recall as a child once asking my parents, If there is a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, when is it Children’s Day? My father’s response: Every day is Children’s Day!)

The merry month of May also brings family and friends together to celebrate first Communions and perhaps confirmations or weddings. As it is the month dedicated to Mary, there will be processions and “May crownings” of statues—still popular practices in many parishes across the land. All around us are signs of joy, rebirth and renewal.

May I suggest, readers, that you gift Mother (and all your loved ones) this holiday with a good book. You are likely to find the right one in the pages of America.

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