Photo by Edward F. Palm)

About Me

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Forest, Virginia, United States
A long time ago, my sophomore English teacher, Father William Campbell, saw something in my writing and predicted that I would someday become a newspaper columnist. He suggested the perfect title for my column--"Leaves of the Palm." Now that I have a little extra time on my hands I've decided to put Father Campbell's prediction to the test. I'm going to start using this blog site not just to reprint opinion pieces I've published elsewhere but to try to get more of my ideas and opinions out there. Feedback is welcome. To find out more about me, please check out my Web site: www.EdwardFPalm.com (Click on any of the photos below for an enlarged view.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Annals of the Rod and God Club--"Doubt"

(The kind of nun I wish I had had, Sr. Pat Thro, Maryville University of  St. Louis, 2002)
My wife and I rented and watched the Meryl Streep - Philip Seymour Hoffman film "Doubt" over the weekend.  I recommend it highly to lapsed and recovering Catholics alike. It's a wonderfully complex portrayal of the psychological tension those who struggle to believe must feel. But the film resonated with me on another, more personal level.
     "Doubt" is set in 1964, roughly the time of my Catholic school  experience.  I transferred to the school I call "Holy Name" in the the 7th grade, in the fall of 1959.  The early Sixties, I've come to realize, were a pivotal time for the Church in America.  Some of our parents were still fervently committed to their fatih, but the majority of them, it seemed to me, just went along as a matter of form.  Baptisms, First Holy Communions, Confirmations--even Church weddings and funerals--these were the things that working-class Catholics did in my day in order to keep up appearances.  (As I've elsewhere recounted, they weren't even naming all their children after saints, much less encouraging them to become priests or nuns.)  The Church's rites of passage were social obligations as much as, if not more than, religious duties.  And for those working-class parents struggling to support the children they already had the Church's authority ended at the bedroom door.
      Even the Church's rhetoric seemed curiously dated and comically naive in those days.  By the seventh grade, for instance, I knew that in the American lexicon an "ejaculation" was not a short, sponntaneous prayer.  I had to repress a smirk every time I heard a priest or nun encourage us to devote our free time to our "ejaculations."
      My generation was definitely pulling away.  Young people would soon begin "tuning in, turning on, and dropping out."  Questioning authority and pushing back boundaries were the new virtues.  While our secular-minded peers were ushering in an era of free love, we were still expected to be guilt-ridden over "impure thoughts."
       Into this era, and into my life, rode the nun I've already written about in my "Annals of the Rod and God Club."  She was already middle-aged when our paths crossed, and I've since come to understand something of how she must have felt.  She had made, to her way of thinking, an irrevocable commitment to a world that was dying, and she couldn't fit in to the one just then being born and which she couldn't understand.  Like the nun Meryl Streep plays, my 7th- and 8th-grade nun (I had the same one for both grades) must have been struggling with primal doubts.
     Sister, I now realize, was more to be pitied than censured.  But, sadly, early adolescent boys are not known for their capacity for empathy and sympathy.  --EFP

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