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In the last fifteen months, my husband Mike and I have attended two funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The first was on January 6th, 2022, and a second recent ceremony on May 3rd. Both Earl Brown and Ian Duncan’s ashes were buried over eighteen months after their deaths.

Earl Brown

Ian Duncan

To be laid to rest at Arlington is an honor, and these days it is a long wait. On this Memorial Day of 2023, I wish to honor these two Air Force pilots, who were the finest of men. And their ardent love of flying makes me wish that Earl and Ian had met one another.

Today at historic Christchurch in Weems, Virginia, Ilona Duncan will play organ for the annual Memorial Day service. And I would like to thank Ilona for posting my thoughts each week and giving to my words, her kind and artistic touch.

Next week: Alan Paton’s 1950s South African novel, Too Late the Phalarope

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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

It is being and spirit in search of matter.

Unlike George Saunders, a story by me will not be in The New Yorker.

And were you or I to write a collection of short stories, the book has scant chance of

publication except by SELF. Forget this, I tell myself.

Instead, remember that Imagination needs daily brushing to deflect decay.

Write and read good literature, thus allowing Imagination a two-hour brushing.

That’s all Flannery O’Connor wrote daily. Yet everything in her converged in that brief time

as she sat awaiting Imagination’s visit.

I apologize if this has the pedantic ring of Julian in “Everything That Rises Must Converge.”

But understand I am turning 80 in fifteen days. For 56 of those years, I have taught literature and writing. This week my current RCC-RILL class will discuss “The Mom of Bold Action” by George Saunders. If you need deep laughter about writ-large craziness, find the

story on the internet. (It was published in The New Yorker.)

Better yet buy a copy of Liberation Day. Webmaster Ilona bought a hardcover on Amazon for $5.00. My copy says $28.00 on the book’s cover. Who can explain this difference in price?

I can only add that George is a literary dentist who uses a loving and gentle drill to expand the cranium to allow room for greater consciousness.

O’Connor said to the hard of hearing you shout and to the blind you draw large figures. Her tradition is tragi-comic. Saunders is master of the absurd, a satirist with heart.

How O’Connor became so important to me is explained in an essay that won first in two literary contests. I would be delighted to send a file for “A Woman Reader from the Boogie Woogie West” to anyone who is interested.

Next week: South Africa calls in two novels, written with fifty years between them.

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  • Gail Wilson Kenna

This is the title of a short story collection by Flannery O’Connor. It is also the title of one story in the book; and students in my current RILL-RCC class will discuss “Everything That Rises Must Converge” this week.

From whom did O’Connor borrow this phrase, translated from the French? The words are from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Who was he? A Jesuit priest and a famous paleontologist known for his discovery of Peking Man.

I just forwarded to my nineteen students, this week’s Brain Pickings. This brilliant site, long in existence, is written each week by Marie Popova in New York City. This Sunday’s is titled, “The Heart of Matter: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on Bridging the Scientific and the Sacred.” The site is free, but its author deeply appreciates donations. And I note it is time for me to send Maria a second one for her devotion to artistic truth each week.

Earlier I went through two collections of O’Connor’s letters: the 1979, Habit of Being, and the 2019, Good Things Out of Nazareth. In the two books are thirty letters which refer to Teilhard de Chardin. He died on Easter Sunday in 1955, nine years before O’Connor’s death on August 3 in 1964 at age 39.

O’Connor inherited the same lupus that had taken her father’s life. She referred to this disease as the wolf in her existence. She drew strength from Teilhard’s belief in “passive diminishments”: of an acceptance of that which cannot be changed. This photo of Flannery was taken prior to the first attack of lupus, an auto-immune disease. The medicine used in the 1950s, a cortisone derivative (ACTH), resulted in the deterioration of her hip bones and a reliance on crutches. In Flannery’s short life, she wrote only two collections of short stories and two novellas. And yet she is considered one of the most remarkable writers of the 20th century, both in our country and abroad.

Since 1979, Flannery has been a force in my life, and next week I will explain why and how…

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