Monday, July 27, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 8 (Dorothy Day)

Day, Dorothy
The Long Loneliness

I think someone gave this to me in college, but I don't remember who it was. Dorothy Day's memoir was a sort of bible for my friends, many of whom were equally devoted Catholics and Socialists, as was Day herself.

Everyone at Fordham seemed to be doing something -- working in homeless shelters, raising money for various ministries to the poor, taking service trips to Central and South America, etc. I spent a year working at a Catholic mission in Quito, Ecuador a couple of years after college, though I can't say I ever quite shared the social idealism of many of my peers, at least not outside the realms of my own heart.

A lot of this had to do with my real life experience working in activist circles on various collective projects. While I find the idea of voluntary collectivism at the societal level a very compelling and beautiful one, I find the realpolitik of working in a collective situation among collectivists absolutely maddening. Part of this has to do with my personality. When I want to work on a project, say, protesting a war, or feeding the homeless, or educating kids in poor urban areas, I want to focus on that one thing and to do it well. The tendency of many of the collectivist groups I've worked with has been to want to mix it all together at once, which often causes a kind of paralyzing inability to move forward with a project in any kind of coherent or effective way.

A good example of this was when a group of us got together to try to start a charter school in NYC in the early 90's. We had a few planning meetings, which started off in a very promising way -- lots of good discussion about educational philosophy, school activities, facilities, administration and so forth, but after a few meetings, things started to lose focus. People wanted the school to not only educate kids, but also their parents, not only to provide education in general, but also to fight poverty and homelessness and hunger and to have a resettlement program for refugees from countries in which the US was meddling, etc etc etc. In other words, the school was swallowed up by everyone's desire to combat injustice at every level of society. The long and the short of this was that we put in a farcical application and didn't get the charter.

Anyhow -- I am short on time, so no excerpt this morning. I feel like am ranting a lot now that I've reached the D's. I wonder what that is all about.


Kevin Killian said...

I didn't realize you went to Fordham, Mike, so did I, though the one in Lincoln Center. And I met Dorothy Day, twice, though I haven't thought about her in many years. She perplexed me, she did not conform to my idea of what a radical would be like. Thanks for bringing it all back.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Hey Kevin--

(Between these parentheses I am sending you the secret Fordham handshake)

I met a lot of people like that at Fordham -- especially a lot of the older priests, many of whom were old time social radical catholics in the Day mold.

They were fascinating, yet also, as you say, perplexing people, esp. when you got to discussing things like abortion or homosexuality or any of various other Catholic hot-button issues.

Hope all's well.