The Hammer of Justice

What a Great Tuesday it was. An old friend asked me to fix her absolutely shitty Banjo-lele (because they were ALL shitty). I had a peanut butter and banana sandwich and a glass of milk for lunch, which was great. I went for a walk with my wife and we saw, honest to Gawd, a bald eagle, which was huge and swept down from someplace nearby and ripped, wings fully extended and head full of purpose, right across the park we were sitting in, then rode one of the big winds that marked that marvelous day far up into the sky and disappeared somewhere over near the sanitation plant on McCormick Boulevard. We spent the rest of the afternoon just looking at the sky to see if he would return. I suspect he was going down to Starved Rock, because that’s where lots of them live. I envied him and the way he moved with such confidence, especially when he lifted himself right back into the sky without so much as the flap of a wing. Then I walked back home and turned on the folk music radio station and took a nap and had a dream that carried me back to the seminary in 1960 when I was way too young to know about the unknowability of God and believed, just like most of the rest of the young men in there, that He had called me to become a missionary priest.

On the folk music radio station, Peter, Paul and Mary were singing “If I had a Hammer,” and I was somehow, transported just like the eagle without flapping a single wing, back to the good intentions of my youth and the delight at my certainty about God, me, what I would become. The missionary priests who taught us, Columban Fathers from Ireland, were very smart, very tough and not at all shy about pushing us around if we deserved it, which we frequently did. Their place was the playing field. We would all be herded out there to play ‘Irish Football,’ which none of us knew about. It was simple, the priests said. It would last about two hours. There would be no substitutions for injuries, no referees and they could do whatever they felt was necessary to defeat us. It did not take two hours. Exhausted and some of us bloody, we headed to the showers and then to the big rec room to listen to folk music and watch such TV as the seminary could manage in those days. We were all new to this experience, and to the thought we had made a mysterious holy commitment that we could not break. Some of us just put our heads down on the table and fell asleep and, listening to that same Peter, Paul and Mary album, imagined what a “hammer of justice” would look like and how the “bell of freedom” might sound. Would it sweep inequality from our lives? Would it give everyone what they needed to have a good life?

Do that kind of thing enough and the idea of a hammer of justice and the bell of freedom gets embedded in your head and returns whenever events prompt it from memory. One realizes justice is not actually about using a hammer; it’s about understanding compassion and love for everyone without asking questions about whether that is deserved. As for the bell of freedom, that should be a constant for us, something we take responsibility for, something we embrace and share with our brothers and sisters.

That is what is left from my seminary days, a longing to make things right for people, a prayer for that, actually. I think President Biden might have the same thoughts. I hope so. Such a good man.

I know, you’re thinking, “What a Pussy!” but I am not. After a lifetime in journalism and a decade as a college teacher, I am pretty old now and nowhere near as fluid as I used to be in running (or even walking for that matter). I don’t drive anymore. I don’t perform. I just work on instruments to my heart’s content, especially now that my workshop has warmed up to a full 60 degrees or so. I play and sing when I feel moved to. I enjoy my family.

I do miss the certainty I used to have about God, though, especially with Easter coming on. That used to be a big day of celebration for my family. But it’s a mistake to confuse faith with fluffy marshmallow easter peeps or colored eggs or enough chocolate to gag a class of fourth graders. Still, it would be nice to have that feeling for just a few minutes, a certainty that a force for goodness is around us, inviting us to do our best, to love kindly and without end.

Of course, I will always have the image of that eagle in my head, along with the question, “What is a mature bald eagle doing flying around Evanston?” My best answer is that it was a gift, as is the hammer of justice and the bell of freedom and my lasting thoughts about them. If you are believers, enjoy your Easter. If not, enjoy one another, mask up and delight in the unfolding wonders of spring.

5 thoughts on “The Hammer of Justice

  1. Thanks for fixing my shitty banjolele and making it less shitty.I wish I had seen the eagle.  I got the consolation prize of observing a hawk nearby from my window.  Go, raptors!Kate Sent from Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

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  2. That eagle was your gift to let you fly in your dreams! Perfect. Good Friday still makes me reflective of the rituals I was raised with & sad. Easter brings the joy of nature coming alive again & the appreciation that a higher power prevails. I have grown to love all & live good. That is where my soul rests. Peace.

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  3. One of my big regrets in this life is not getting to know my second cousins better. I feel our connection through the words you write and I am so elated I found your blog! Coincidence? Some may say yes, I say there is no coincidence. May we all receive a resurrection today, where our life most needs one!

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