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For All Nails #187: The Children's Crusade

by M.G. Alderman



Taedet animam meam vitae meae,
dimittam adversum me eloquium meum,
loquar in amaritudine animae meae.
Dicam Deo: Noli me condemnare:
indica mihi cur me ita iudices.
Numquid bonum tibi videtur,
si calumnieris et opprimas me,
opus manuum tuarum, et consilium impiorum adiuves?
Numquid oculi carnei tibi sunt:
aut sicut videt homo, et tu vides?
Numquid sicut dies hominis dies tui,
et anni tui, sicut humana sunt tempora,
ut quaeras iniquitatem meam,
et peccatum meum scruteris?
Et scias quia nihil impium fecerim,
cum sit nemo qui de manu tua possit eruere.

--Second Lesson, Matins of the Office of the Dead (Job x, 1-7)



Draft of a letter, unsent

University of New Orleans
January 16, 1975

Dear Mum,

I know you're always envious of me down in Georgia where "brightly o'er the bayou shines thy gold and blue," as our Alma Mater puts it, but trust me, right now I'd sooner be with you and Dadda up in Radisson, FN1 and no, it's not just because I could kill for some decent peerogeys, since the grub down here makes for good eating. I've got jamby coming out of my ears. Or giambalagna, as Mario down the hall insists the real New Orleans chaps call it. He should know. But I'd sooner be up there with you.

It's simply frustrating--everything is.

We had a Mass in Time of War at the Basilica the first day of classes. His Eminence presided, and you could feel the uncertainty crackling through the air as he mounted the pulpit for the homily. He spoke of prayers for peace, and the whole war business slipped in pretty subtly . . . I don't know. We hear a good bit about peace at all the masses nowadays, but I'm getting a bit tired of it. I'd sooner they prayed for victory, though sometimes I'm not sure whose. Whoever's right. It's hard to forget Ferdie was a Zahmer FN2 like me; I remember him down the hall from me. They used to say he spent the whole night on the 'phone home. I used to think he was just homesick but now I guess he was simply busy.

Marie-Claire, ah, sweet, dark-eyed M-C, she asks me in her high, accented voice, what can one do? It's not like you can get up on the church steps and call for the crusade. Those days are over; times and armies and wars are a lot grayer, though I sometimes wish we were back at Clermont, like we learned in Fr. Salzmann's church history class. The defense of New Granada, like the siege of Old Granada. I can't leave off being a military history student long enough even to keep it out of my letters home . . .

On the other hand, Pope Adrian has called for all civilized nations to respect the sovereignty of their neighbors. Awfully vague, but I think he knows what he means. On the other hand, the older priests here aren't too keen on us young Cadets dashing off to help the Neogranadians. Some of the younger ones are, though, but, of course, they haven't known war. And Cardinal Miceli, you know, grew up back during the days of the Global War. He has good reason to be worried and not go barreling over the wall.

On the other hand, I wish I could, stupid romantic fool that I am, do something for God's sake. Marie, I think, in those deep brown eyes of hers, she wants to do something too. Not fight, of course; she wants to do something more worthwhile. Heal or help, something strong and feminine. It's a long way from here to Trois-Rivieres, but I have a feeling she's already switched her major to pre-Med. She was here, you know, when she heard the news, here, all alone, away from her parents. Lord, she's pretty, with that chocolate-brown hair and her olive skin, the Sacred Heart medal at her neck... So pure, like an angel in that white sweater of hers. You know, she's the only reason I joined the Knights of the Imm., though I've got plenty more now.

The natives, as they say, are restless down here. Of course, we're bristling with would-be politicos to begin with, most of them barking mad. Liberals, PC, PJP, RJP, whatever all those silly initials mean. Same players as at home, but -- lunacy seems to rise to the surface quicker. There's quite a few Mason fellows (I think they're the ones who like all those letters), for better or worse, and then there's the Nats, who haven't got a brain between the lot of them. A fist or two, and some silly uniforms that make them look like flicker-house ushers, yes. You know about Cadet Spode. Remember him? I think he likes them. Figures.

And then it gets even stranger. Some of the more daring students have started chalking the pavement with pro-war slogans, and more of them seem to be directed at Sir Geoffrey Gold than Mercator. The "Mexicans"--well, I call them Mexicans, what can one call them? I've mentioned them before, Veronica's one of them, sort-of, though she tends to walk the line, you know. The Confraternity of the Holy Ghost is what one group calls themselves, the sandal-wearing minority that pins pictures of Our Lady of Guadalupe to their denim jackets and interrupt dorm masses with speaking in tongues as if they're in Jefferson or something. You know, the Cuawatawhatever Smith types. FN3 But I'm being unfair to them; they're good people, really. They may be loopy, but they're our loops. They simply want to stay out of the whole thing; I don't know if they expect to march down to Bogotá and lay down like Inder Nehru before the German troops in Hyderabad, or simply sit and be peaceful up here.

The "Mexie" Marianists (the Confraternity is trying to start a group in town called Pax Mariae, I think), though, they've started chalking their own slogans, crossing out "Protect Small Nations!" and putting "Protect Students' Lives!" I don't know what they'll say to "Remember Fernando," though. I don't think they've got an answer to that, not yet. They may never.

Yesterday a fight broke out when some of the Cadets (not me, I swear, and Anne-Marie and Dave and Marie-Claire will vouch for me!) came back from drill practice and found a couple of Paxers chalking in something in front of the West Refectory, or at least they thought they had found some. Soon the whole quadrangle was in chaos, and they had to call in the University Constabulary to restore order. Turns out the "Mexie" was just some normalburger from O'Neill Hall putting "Happy Birthday Ted" in blue chalk. No "send guns, not boys," no "beads and bombs." Happy Birthday Ted. Oh Lord.

Life's strange. I don't know about this . . . I have this fear the next thing I'll know I'll wake up and everyone will have gone off to New Granada for the war, and I don't know whether I'll feel more sorry for them or for myself. I can't help feeling something's in the air, though. At the opening mass, for the offertory, the choir did a piece that M-C informs me was written by Tomasso Luigi de Vittoria. FN4 The translation runs something like this:

My soul is weary of my life;
I will leave my complaint upon myself;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
I will say unto God, Do not condemn me;
show me wherefore thou contendest with me.
Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress,
that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands,
and shine upon the counsel of the wicked?
Hast thou eyes of flesh? or seest thou as man seeth?
Are thy days as the days of man?
are thy years as man's days,
that thou inquirest after mine iniquity,
and searchest after my sin?
Thou knowest that I am not wicked;
and there is none that can deliver out of thine hand.

M-C tells me it comes from the office of the Matins for the Dead, not from the mass in time of war. For a funeral, and I sometimes wonder if maybe that's where this is all headed.

Your son,

Hugh


(Forward to FAN #188: The Second Republic.)

(Forward to 21 January 1975: Arma Superior.)

(Forward to Reynard family: Death in the Afternoon, Popcorn Extra.)

(Return to For All Nails.)

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