Cape of Good Hope

Two things happened over the weekend which have lightened my oftentimes dour outlook.

And no, it wasn’t seeing the mini poster for the Manchester Christmas Parade on the Rec Center bulletin board.

Saturday, I met three Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at a women’s retreat at Good Shepherd.

thenunI don’t know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t three young women who, despite the long white habits and black veils of the Dominicans, looked like they were fresh off a high school volleyball court. Energetic and enthusiastic. I could imagine them as the kind of little girls who race across the school playground ahead of everyone else to get to the swings, where, long sandy ponytails whipping the dirt as they soar ever higher, they out-swing, out-run, out-mischief every boy in class.

girl swinging

I’m not sure the oldest was a lot over thirty–I didn’t know if it’s kosher to ask a nun her age–but all I can say is, I wish they’d taught at my school. (They teach–or principal–at St. Rose of Lima Catholic School in Murfreesboro.)

Because when they told us, “God wants us to be joyful!” it was clearly evident that–they are.

They said a lot more, but it was their demeanor that lingers in my mind. Yup, that over-quoted quote, which apparently St. Francis did NOT say: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

The second thing was reading The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America, and the blurb on the cover pretty much sums it up: “One man’s journey from coast to coast. No promises. No guarantees. And no money.”

Journalist Mike McIntyre finally decides in his late 30s that he’s tired of being afraid of life. So in the early 90s, he sets himself the terrifying and improbable goal of walking/hitchhiking from California to North Carolina’s Cape Fear.  It’s a kind of memoir, but he tells us more about the strangers who give him rides, give him food, give him–amazingly–a bed or a camping space in their backyard than he does himself.  McIntyre’s ironclad rule is that he won’t accept–or use–money. He has a couple of unnerving encounters, but for the most part, he–and we–discover a surprising generosity, especially from people who have almost nothing themselves.

kindness of strangers

Imagine if oral historian Studs Terkel had walked backroads through middle America. Imagine the conversations he’d have had in truck cabs, over burgers in diners, at church doors. This book, like so many of Terkel’s, hooks you in with its seemingly endless flow of faces and voices. And, as with much of Terkel’s work, you are left with a strong sense of hope which lingers long after you turn the last page.

What’s given you hope lately?

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