I've said that I approach each morning as a blank slate, waiting to see what topic the day's cartoons will prompt me to riff on, but I'll admit I have been hoping for a good "Papal retirement" cartoon, and with some increasing impatience.
Apparently, judging from the cartoons, there appears to have been some sort of problem with pedophilia in the church. (Okay, I actually knew that.) And some issues with people not quite understanding how the papacy works. (Hard to make a point without firm bearings.) And more. (Definitely a case where more is less.)
Finally, Matt Davies came up with a panel that actually ties in the news with a relevant topic, and manages to do so without a backhanded slap at the Roman Catholic Church. It's even funny, in a depressing "yeah, no kidding" kind of way.
Davies isn't the only cartoonist, by the way, to play on the "retired folks working as Wal-Mart greeters" idea, but the notion of the pope being forced into that role is ... well, it won't fly. You don't have to wade into the whole semi-paranoid "golden treasures of the Vatican" zone, but, come on, the dude ain't gonna be eating cat food, either.
One of my more memorable professors at Notre Dame maintained that there was no such thing as an "ex-Catholic." You could no more be an ex-Catholic, he insisted, than you could be ex-Irish or ex-Italian.
And for all our go-rounds -- and we had some memorable ones -- this was a place where we agreed, though his "ineradicable mark" was my "permanent scar." But he was right in that Catholicism is not a jacket that you can take off and put on again. It is an identity.
I once read, in a book that appears to have escaped, that a disproportionate number of hippies were Catholics and Jews, the sociologist's theory being that kids in more easy-going cultures had less substance against which to rebel.
I think that's probably correct, not just for the actual hippies but also among the much more numerous freaks, the distinction being that "hippies" in the real sense had a kind of zen outlook, and there were far more long-haired, guitar-slinging people wandering around with unresolved authority issues than there were productive, self-contained, counter-cultural artists and poets.
Which brings us to the only koan anyone outside a zen monastery knows, the story of the two monks, the river, the stranded woman and "Put her down. I did, a mile ago."
You cannot be an ex-Catholic until you have successfully put her down and moved on along the path. Until then, you are only a "recovering Catholic," and while it is unfair to demand more than that of people, it doesn't mean, to reference another gem from the Sixties, that we should be asked to take your bad trip.
So, anyway, Davies takes the interesting news story of the Pope's sensible-but-nearly-unprecedented decision to step down and pairs it with the modern phenomenon of American seniors who would dearly love to retire but cannot.
The best part of his cartoon is the caption, "Lucky young fella," which both tells us that this Wal-Mart worker is older than 85 and also expresses envy without anger. It's just the way it is. Some folks get to retire. We don't.
And the tripod cane tells us that he isn't working for lack of stimulus at home. He shouldn't be doing this. And yet there he is. And it's just the way it is.
I've got a retired friend who is a good guy but, as those of us in the Club are allowed to say, is kind of a hardass bluecollar Jersey mick, and prone to think that people's misfortunes are the result of their own poor planning and their lack of character and self-discipline.
Or he was, until about a year ago, when he started to volunteer as a Meals on Wheels driver, and the scales of theory fell from his eyes. "You wouldn't believe it ..." he'd say, but then would kind of drift off into non-specifics as that soft Irish heart melted from the sorrow of what he had seen.
And it's everywhere.
I've known two people who retired from good, professional positions, but then had to return to the workforce in order to secure health care until they were old enough to quality for Medicare. But even a guy with a doctorate shelving goods at Target is nothing in today's world.
I've also heard, both from social workers and from town council members, of older people trying to eke out a living on less than $1,000 a month in Social Security, whose houses are paid for but whose property and school taxes continue to rise and whose rural homes are heated by fuel oil that becomes less affordable every year, and who do not live within walking distance of groceries in areas with no public transportation and whose families may be hundreds or thousands of miles away in this mobile, rootless society of ours.
Look: I'm not an ex-Catholic, because there's no such a thing, but I have put the woman down and, if you haven't, I can't help you. I would strongly suggest you find someone who can.
Meanwhile, I think we should probably try to help that old fella down at Wal-Mart and not bother to obsess over the old fella in the Vatican.