November 29: Remembering Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, 1929
Dorothy Day, 1929

November 29 marks the anniversary of Dorothy Day’s death. I owe much of my formation as a Catholic, as an activist, and as a writer to Dorothy Day and the Worker movement. Currently, I’m making my way through the recently released The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg. Dorothy’s personal papers were embargoed for 25 years after her death. Ellsberg has done a phenomenal job in sifting, collecting, tracing, and editing. (I’ve written a few times about D. Day and the Catholic Worker movement for Sojourners.)

Below is a poem by my friend Ted Deppe, recalling Dorothy:

House of Hospitality
Tivoli, NY, 1976

Down the hall, someone’s playing Schumann and cursing,
and Dorothy says, ‘That’s why we call this a house of
hostility. At least we don’t turn away those in need,
but all our farms are failures.’ She quotes Dostoyevsky
to sum up fifty years of the Worker: ‘Love in dreams
seems easy, but love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing.’

Outside, the ice on the Hudson keeps breaking with loud booms,
and Dorothy recalls the San Francisco quake
when she was eight. Which prompts an elderly man, silent so far,
to clear his throat and say, ‘I was there—I heard Caruso
sing from the window of the Palace Hotel. We were running
down Market Street when Mother stopped, pointed up,

and there he was, testing his voice they say—he was afraid
he might have lost it during the disaster—singing from La Boheme,
that magnificent tenor of his floating above the sound of collapsing
buildings.’ ‘And you heard him sing?’ asks Dorothy, ‘you heard
Caruso?’ and the man—a very articulate schizophrenic—says,
‘I saw a city destroyed and heard Caruso sing on the same morning.’

‘What a life!’ Dorothy says. ‘See, I was in Oakland,
where it wasn’t so bad. I only read about Caruso. And his valet—
did you see him? A character out of Ignazio Silone!
I mean, I love opera, I love Caruso, but this valet, when the quake hit,
reportedly came into the maestro’s hotel room
and told him, “Signor, it is nothing—nothing—but I think

we should go outside.” Then, once he’d waited in the shaking
building for Caruso to sing, a cappella, the complete aria,
once he’d finally escorted him safely to the open square,
he climbed six floors to that Room with a View
to pack the great man’s trunks, and carefully—apparently
calmly—carried them down, one by one.’

This poem appeared originally in The Shop and will appear in Orpheus on the Red Line (Tupelo Press, 2009)..

Video: Dorothy Day’s ‘Pacifist, Anarchist Movement’

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly ran an 8-minute segment on Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement on Feb. 8.

If you’ve never heard Dorothy speak for herself, here’s your chance. Wonderful clips! As well as excellent interviews with heroes of the movement: Robert Ellsberg, Jane Sammon, Carmen Trotta, Joanne Kennedy, and Patrick Jordan.

Watch The Life of Dorothy Day on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

“The Catholic Worker is essentially a school, you might say. I mean, it’s a place where you…where you…a lot of young people come to us…It’s a pacifist, anarchist movement, and they come to us to learn more about this point of view of beginning a change from the bottom up, rather than from the top down—through unions and credit unions. You do away with banks by credit unions…you do away with interest, you do away with…by mutual aid. You do away with possession of goods by sharing.”–Dorothy Day, interview in 1974

Learn more here.

Prayer Should Be ‘Short and Pure’

Today, I dipped into Robert Ellsberg’s wonderful All the Way to Heaven: Selected Letters of Dorothy Day for encouragement and some of Dorothy’s straight-up truth.

In the autumn of 1964, Dorothy spent six months at her daughter’s farm  in Vermont minding her grandchildren their father left. In a letter to artist Fritz Eichenberg during that time, she recounts the children’s spirituality.

“Eric is 16 and Nickie is 14, and they still so trustfully put up their foreheads for me to make the sign of the cross on them before they go to bed at night and before they go to school in the morning. I urge them, as St. Benedict did, to short and frequent prayer, as they go down the road to the school bus in the morning…” (p.304)

The Rule of St. Benedict Dorothy refers to was written to make it easier for us to be good and to love God. Chapter 20, on “Reverence in Prayer” says:

it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matthew 6:7),
but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.
Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.

Keeping Up with Catholic Peace Author Jim Douglass

Jim & Shelley Douglass

I was gratified to find this little note in the Publisher’s Weekly update about friend Jim Douglass. Simon and Schuster picked up the paperback rights to Jim’s book and chose to release it to coincide with the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination (47 years ago this week).

Oliver Stone provided the impetus for Catholic publisher Orbis to sell the paperback rights to James Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters to Simon & Schuster, which published its edition this month (Nov.).

Stone held the book up on Bill Maher’s show last year and urged all Americans to read it; he repeated that message in the Huffington Post later in the year. The book argues that Kennedy’s assassination was the result of a conspiracy between the U.S. military and intelligence communities.

On November 8 there was a panel discussion with author James W. Douglass, Oliver Stone, Lisa Pease (coauthor of The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X), and Orbis Books publisher Robert Ellsberg at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, Calif.

S&S’s description of Jim’s book is as follows:

At the height of the Cold War, JFK risked committing the greatest crime in human history: starting a nuclear war. Horrified by the specter of nuclear annihilation, Kennedy gradually turned away from his long-held Cold Warrior beliefs and toward a policy of lasting peace. But to the military and intelligence agencies in the United States, who were committed to winning the Cold War at any cost, Kennedy’s change of heart was a direct threat to their power and influence. Once these dark “Unspeakable” forces recognized that Kennedy’s interests were in direct opposition to their own, they tagged him as a dangerous traitor, plotted his assassination, and orchestrated the subsequent cover-up.

Douglass takes readers into the Oval Office during the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, along on the strange journey of Lee Harvey Oswald and his shadowy handlers, and to the winding road in Dallas where an ambush awaited the President’s motorcade. As Douglass convincingly documents, at every step along the way these forces of the Unspeakable were present, moving people like pawns on a chessboard to promote a dangerous and deadly agenda.

I’ve said it in several previous posts and I’ll say it again – in order to understand the enormity of evil and the explosive power of conversion in modern America, this is a must-read book.