dealing with a blow (death)


My wife and I just got the totally unexpected news from one of our best, dear friends that his wife died yesterday.

She had been ill for some time. She was immobilized, bedridden, for a good part (if not most) of the time, and needed constant assistance. Our friend, who is retired, had little time to himself. When he wasn’t at home caring for her, he was out doing errands such as shopping for food and taking care that other necessities were met. He never complained. That is not his nature.

Yesterday, our friend’s wife managed to attend Thanksgiving dinner nearby with a son and in-laws, accompanied by her husband. She died suddenly on the way home.



I couldn’t help thinking of the worst experience, without question, I had of death; and probably the worst experience of my whole life: my mother’s death at a young age from cancer.

It nearly tore our family apart. Not because of any disagreements among us (in the nuclear family), but just because of losing our mother and our father his wife.

Two things that I shared with my wife on hearing the news today of the death of our friend’s wife were as follows.




When my mother became gravely ill, and treatments appeared not to have been successful, I sank into a state of depression, as did my father and siblings. (Our father’s mental state — depression — seemed the worst.)  Yet, it was sort of “abstract,” in a way, at this point. I couldn’t quite contemplate my mother’s death.

By the time she died, a few months later, I had somehow — partly from talking about my mother’s condition with friends — become more realistic or “objective,” or however one might put it. I was no longer denying that my mother’s illness was terminal.

Yet, when my mother died, inevitably, after a short period during which she was at home briefly and then returned to the hospital, it was a terrible blow. The way I perceived it was: I knew in my rational mind she would not get better and was going to die, but not today.

She died in the spring. I made a visit to my father that summer. He did not talk about my mother, as I recall. He seemed less depressed than he had been a few months before.

I brought this up with my therapist. I said something to him to the effect of, my father looks almost happy. He is active again, enjoying life.

My therapist replied that this was normal: enjoying life. My father, he said, was resuming his life. His zest for it.

Death in such circumstances — unendurable to contemplate, something you are never prepared for — can also be a release and a relief.

Roger W. Smith

   November 26, 2021

my student essay on Tolstoy



Roger’s biographical sketch of Tolstoy


my Tolstoy essay – typed version


my Tolstoy essay – TRANSLATION


I am posting it again.

I am very proud of it. It was written in the 1970s.

I told my therapist, Dr. Colp, that I was taking an advanced Russian evening course at NYU.  l said that based on my previous study, I belonged in the intermediate course, but I wanted to be challenged. Made sense to him.

The paper was based on oral presentation in class. Dr, Colp wasn’t given to fulsome praise. But when I told him I gave a talk in Russian, he was impressed — “in Russian?” he said.

I learned Russian script in the introductory course I took, but I have forgotten it mostly and could not do as I did then: produce a handwritten paper.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

it don’t exactly curve



… toward the end of his life, … [Walt] Whitman saw that baseball was beginning to reflect some unsettling cultural changes. … the game … seemed to be conforming to anti­democratic tendencies in the culture. One particular rule change symptomatic of the overall drift of the sport particularly bothered Whitman. [Horace] Traubel records Whitman’s concern in May 1889; Thomas Harned, a devoted friend, had come to see Walt after attending a baseball game, and Whitman jumped at the chance to talk about the state of the sport:

Tell me, Tom-I want to ask you a question: in base-ball is it the rule that the fellow who pitches the ball aims to pitch it in such a way the batter cannot hit it? Gives it a twist-what not-so it slides off, or won’t be struck fairly?

Harned affirmed that this indeed was the case, and Whitman’s response indicates that he still followed the game even if he was now too debilitated to attend: “Eh? That’s the modern rule then, is it? I thought something of the kind-I read the papers about it-it seemed to indicate that there” [Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, 5:145].

The rule that concerned Whitman has to do with the way the ball could be pitched. The original Knickerbocker rule forbade the throwing of the ball; instead, the ball had to be pitched underhand, smoothly, so that the batter could hit it. This rule had been refined over the years, first requiring that the hand not be raised above the hip, then requiring only that the hand pass below the hip as the ball was pitched, then only below the waist, then the shoulder (allowing for sidearm pitching). Originally, then, the pitcher’s function was simply to put the ball in play by allowing the batter to hit it; one player usually pitched all the games. But as the skills of the players became more refined, the pitcher’s role became more strategic. In 1884 the National League removed all restrictions on a pitcher’s delivery, and by 1887 batters could no longer call for high or low pitches. The curveball, which occasionally had been accomplished underhand-style in the 1870s, now became a requisite skill. Whitman, however, was not impressed with this new skill and saw the rule change as endemic of the deception and lack of openness he saw creeping everywhere into America; we can hear echoes of the anger and despair of Democratic Vistas in his response to Harned, “denounc[ing] the custom roundly,” as Traubel tells us:

The wolf, the snake, the cur, the sneak all seem entered into the mod­ern sportsman-though I ought not to say that, for a snake is a snake because he is born so, and man the snake for other reasons, it may be said.” And again he went over the catalogue-“! should call it everything that is damnable.”

Harned is described as “amused” at Whitman’s response, but Whitman seems in earnest. He has obviously had the matter on his mind for some time and has engaged in some lively debate about it: “I have made it a point to put the same question to several fellows lately. There certainly seems no doubt but that your version is right, for that is the version everyone gives me” (With Walt Whitman in Camden 5:145).

— Ed Folsom, Walt Whitman’s Native Representations (Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 46-47




I was playing sandlot softball and baseball into my mid-50s. My hitting seemed to get better as I got older. I recall one pitcher though, Edward ______ — much younger than me, of course — on a playground in Queens whom I couldn’t hit. A fat pitch would come in slow, looked so tempting, I would swing, and the ball would break DOWN under my bat. Mightily swing and a miss. “I can never seem to hit you,” I said to Edward once. He laughed. “it’s always lights out for you?” he said.


posted by Roger W. Smith

  November 2021

true wisdom


My mother died tragically at a young age of cancer.

I overheard her once one evening in our house when as far as she knew no one was listening saying several times, repeatedly, to her herself, “I am going to die. I am going to die,” as if an incantatory saying could ward off evil; or better yet, help her face it. She was obviously terrified.

Hearing her say this alarmed me.

Several years later, I shared this with my wife Janet. It seemed in a way that cancer had unhinged my mother.

“What was wrong with that?” my wife said. “She was dying.”

My mother knew it. I, at the time, could not admit or face it.


– Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

I’m so glad I took high school Latin.



TENET – Robert Fayrfax -Missa Tecum Principium, based on the chant “In the day of Thy strength”.


Text follows:

Maria plena virtute from Seven Last Words from the Cross (votive antiphon)

composed by Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521)

performed by Tenet Vocal Artists. St. Ignatius of Antioch, West End Avenue, 87th Street, October 23, 2021


Maria plena virtute pietatis gratiae, mater misericordiae, tu nos ab hoste protege. Clementissima Maria, vitae per merita compassionis tuae pro nobis preces effunde, et de peccatis meis erue. Sicut tuus Filius petiit pro crucifigentibus, “Pater dimitte ignorantibus”, magna pietate pendens in latronibus, dixit uni ex hominibus “In Paradiso cum patribus mecum eris hodie”.

Mater dolorosa plena lacrimosa videns ruinosa Filium in cruce, cum voce raucosa dixit speciosa “1 lier clamorosa Filium tuum ecce.”

Vertens ad discipulum sic fuit mandatum matrem fuisse per spatium et ipsam consolare; et sicut decebat filium servum paratissimum custodivit preceptum omnino servire.

Dixit Jesus dilectionis “Sitio salutem gentium.” Audi orationibus nostris tuae misericordiae. O Jesu, rex amabilis quid sustulisti pro nobis per merita tuae passionis peto veniam a te.

Jesu, dicens clamasti, “Deus meus, num quid me dereliquisti” Per acetum quod gustasti ne derelinquas me. “Consummatum.” dixisti.

0 Jesu Fili Dei, in hora exitus mei, animam meam suscipe. Tunc spiritum emisit, et matrem gladius pertransivit: aqua et sanguis exivit ex delicato corpore: Post ab Arimathia rogavit et Jesum sepelivit, et Nicodemus venit ferens mixturam myrrhae. 0 dolorosa mater Christi, quales poenas tu vidisti, corde tenens habuisti fidem totius ecclesiae.

Ora pro me, regina coeli, Filium tuum dicens; “Fili, in hora mortis peccatis suis indulge.”



Mary, full of virtue, pity and grace, mother of mercy, protect us from the enemy. Most gentle Mary, filled with life. pour out, of your compassion, prayers on our behalf, and release me from my sins, just as your son prayed for those crucifying him, “Father, forgive the ignorant.” Hanging between two robbers, through his great holiness he said to one of the men, “You will today be in heaven with me and your ancestors”.

The grieving mother, filled with tears, destroyed by the sight of her son hanging on the cross, spoke in a hoarse voice, pronouncing her feelings. “Wailing woman”, was the reply, “Behold your son.”

As he turned to the disciple, came the order to console herself that she had been a mother for a time, and just as she was worthy of a son so ready to be a servant; so he obeyed the instruction to be a servant completely.

Jesus spoke of his choice,”! thirst for the deliverance of the nations.” Of your mercy, give ear to our prayers, 0 Jesus. King most worthy of love, what you endured for us. Through the grace of your suffering I seek pardon from you.

Jesus, you called out, saying, “My God, why have you deserted me?” By the vinegar which you tasted, do not desert me.

“It is finished,” you said. Jesus, Son of God, take up my soul in the hour of my death. Then he gave up the ghost, and the sword pierced his mother: water and blood poured out from his tender body. Later, she asked for his body from Arimathea and buried Jesus, and Nicodemus came bearing a mixture of myrrh. 0 grieving Mother of Christ, what punishments you saw. You had the faith of the whole church, keeping it in your heart.

Pray for me, Queen of Heaven, saying to your son, “Son, forgive your servant’s sins in the hour of his death.”





Beautiful and powerful words.  The piety is felt everywhere, no matter which way one turns.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 27, 2021

new vocabulary words


vocabulary (9-18-2021)


Please see attached document.

I keep looking words up — always do so as I read.

And I copy the definitions as I go.

My English teacher, Mr. Tighe, would approve.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

  September 18, 2021



a lynching


Southern Worker 12-12-1931



3 Fellow_Worker_of_Lynched_Man_S 4 Gov._Ritchie,_Possible_Preside

4 Gov._Ritchie,_Possible_Preside


If you can bear it, read the news item, “Negro Worker Lynched for Demanding Pay,” in the Southern Worker, December 12, 1931, pp. 1-2.

There is an editorial on page 4.

Plus, I am posting a few other news stories from the time. The mainstream media gave the lynching only glancing notice. The Baltimore Afro-American was the only newspaper to give it serious coverage.

This is how blacks were treated then.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   December 2021

“Don’t you ever forget that name.”


‘Don’t you ever forget that name’ – Washington Post 8-30-2021


President Biden made his way on Sunday around a quiet room at Dover Air Force Base, … with dignitaries and grieving families huddling together as the president came to speak to them privately, one family at a time.

Mark Schmitz had told a military officer the night before that he wasn’t much interested in speaking to a president he did not vote for, one whose execution of the Afghan pullout he disdains — and one he now blames for the death of his 20-year-old son Jared.

But overnight, … Schmitz changed his mind. So on that dreary morning he and his ex-wife were approached by Biden after he’d talked to all the other families. … Schmitz glared hard at the president. …. Eventually, the parents took out a photo to show to Biden. I said, “Don’t you ever forget that name. Don’t you ever forget that face. Don’t you ever forget the names of the other 12,” Schmitz said. “And take some time to learn their stories.”

Biden did not seem to like that, Schmitz recalled, and he bristled, offering a blunt response: “I do know their stories.”





‘Don’t you ever forget that name’: Biden’s tough meeting with grieving relatives

By Matt Viser

The Washington Post

August 30, 2021


President Biden did not deserve this. It is the grieving father who, in my opinion, is wrong here.

Wrong to say what he did in the way he said it.

Biden did not, obviously, desire this tragic occurrence, and he is not responsible for it.

Admittedly, policies he recently implemented were an indirect cause for an airport attack in Kabul, Afghanistan last week that resulted in the deaths of thirteen U.S. Marines and service members. But Biden is not personally responsible. The suicide bomber and gunmen were.

Putting this aside, let’s focus on what’s appropriate, what is called for here.

You experience a death in your family. The mourners at the funeral or a wake make an effort to convey their grief and empathy, as do those officiating (a minister or priest, speakers at the service).

One should appreciate that they are there. That perhaps it wasn’t easy for them, that it evokes painful memories in them (such as President Biden’s own) of deaths they have experienced, that they are doing their best to be empathic and to express condolences.

That is all one can expect of others in such circumstances, whether the “others” are officials, family members, or friends. No one can ever share fully — experience fully — the grief of a grieving spouse or parent. To expect them to is self-serving and self-centered.

Everyone experiences in their lifetime moments of bereavement and personal grief. Others can recognize and empathize with yours, but they will never quite experience it (your grief) fully — which is to say, not the way you do.

Was it right to berate President Biden for not being sufficiently sorry (which was assumed with there being no basis for thinking so)?



— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 31, 2021






“The Reformation as actually experienced by ordinary people was not an uncomplicated imaginative liberation, the restoration of true Christianity after a period of degeneration and corruption, but … a great cultural hiatus.”


“I was raised a Protestant. I have attained a deep appreciation of Roman Catholicism as well through experiences with Catholics from childhood; my wife and sons are Catholic.

“Having a knowledge of various Protestant denominations and having had relatives and ancestors belonging to different ones (and having studied history), I have often thought to myself, once the cat was let out of the bag and Protestantism emerged, there was no end to the splintering among different denominations — often over matters of church policy or governance and both large and small doctrinal issues.”

— from my post “re ‘Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within’ ”

re “Dangerous Mystic: Meister Eckhart’s Path to the God Within”




“… an account of the Reformation which was widely accepted in England, by scholars as well as the man in the pew, till fairly recently. Even entirely secular people took it as axiomatic that Protestantism was, if not necessarily true, then at least not obviously and ludicrously false, like Roman Catholicism. Believers and unbelievers were agreed that whatever the true claims of Christianity, the Reformation was a vital stage along the road to modernity, the cleansing of the English psyche from priestcraft, ignorance and superstition. …

The Stripping of the Altars, first published in 1992, was, among other things, an attempt to contribute a shovelful of history to the burial of [a] venerable historiographical consensus. .. The book was informed by a conviction that the Reformation as actually experienced by ordinary people was not an uncomplicated imaginative liberation, the restoration of true Christianity after a period of degeneration and corruption, but, for good or ill, a great cultural hiatus, which had dug a ditch, deep and dividing, between the English people and their past. Over the course of three generations a millennium of splendour—the worlds of Gregory and Bede and Anselm and Francis and Dominic and Bernard and Dante, all that had constituted and nourished the mind and heart of Christendom for a thousand years – became alien territory, the dark ages of “papery”. Sixteenth-century Protestantism was built on a series of noble affirma­tions – the sovereignty of the grace of God in salvation, the free availability of that grace to all who sought it, the self-revelation of God in his holy word. But it quickly clenched itself round a series of negations and rejections. As its proponents smashed the statues, whitewashed the churches and denounced the Pope and the Mass, Protestantism came to be constituted in large part by its NO to medieval religion.

The Stripping of the Altars, then, was at one level an elegy for a world we had lost, a world of great beauty and power which it seemed to me the reformers —and many historians ever since—had misunderstood, traduced and destroyed. It was only after the book had been published, and began to be debated, that I came to realize that the energy and engagement which had helped to produce it, and which gave it some of its rhetorical force, did not belong entirely in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Till my early teens I had been brought up in the Ireland of the 1950s, and the religion of my childhood had a good deal in common with the symbolic world of the late Middle Ages. My later teens had exactly coincided with the Second Vatican Council, of which I was an eager observer. That Council had triggered the dismantling of much of what had seemed immemorial and permanent in my own inner imagi­native landscape, as the externals of the ritual life of the Catholic Church were drastically altered and simplified. My account of the English Reformation presented it less as an institutional and doctrinal transformation than a ritual one, “the stripping of the altars”: in retrospect, I see that the intensity of focus I brought to my task as an historian was nourished by my own experience of another such ritual transformation.”

— Eamon Duffy, Preface to the Second Edition, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-c. 1589 (Yale University Press, 2005), pp. xiii-xiv


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2021