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My Advent reading so far has consisted of my first explorations of the writings of Monsignor Ronald Knox, specifically his The Belief of Catholics and The Hidden Stream: The Mysteries of the Christian Faith.  I say “so far” but I might have to change that to “exclusively”, in part because I am now extremely eager to gobble up every other book of Knox’s on which I can lay my hands, in part because I am strongly tempted to simply go back and read these two works over again multiple times.  

It is amazing with what wit and yet with what simplicity Msr. Knox can get across the basics of Catholic apologetics, including all that scary Thomism that has heretofore caused my poor, port-sodden brain to spin helplessly.  It is also quite remarkable how these books, written in the first part of the 20th Century, are still so timely.  (Well, come to think of it, I suppose it shouldn’t be, if we’re talking about eternal verities.)

Robin Williams famously quipped that he likes the Episcopal Church because it’s the only church that doesn’t require you to check your mind at the door.  This always gets titters and guffaws when trotted out on occasion at RFEC.  For myself, before swimming the Tiber I thought it – along with much of Mr. Williams’ material – to be snarky and condescending.  What I didn’t realize until after I’d plunged in was just how howlingly, enragingly ignorant a remark it truly is.  If there’s one thing HMC does, it’s to make you think: Here’s what we believe and why.  Here’s the proofs.  Here’s the reasoning.  Here’s the process by which we have got to Points A, B and C.  (I’d note also, just as an aside, that the catechism at the back of my old Episcopal BCP is 17 pages, all straightforward questions and short answers.  My edition of the Catholic Catechism clocks in at just over 900 pages, including heavy footnoting, annotation, indexing and glossary.) Check your mind at the door? No chance.  To truly “get it”, you need your mind and your heart and your soul.   And perhaps more reflective power than poor Mr. Williams is capable of mustering.

At any rate, Knox delivers his insights in a manner that makes me want to underline every sentence, stand up and wave and shout, go out and start converting people on the spot, and scuttle off to Mass all at the same time.

Greetings, fellow port-swillers!  You know the big blizzard that rolled across the Midwest this week? Guess where Robbo was!  That’s right – in the midst of it!

Now normally I am pretty good at keeping abreast of the weather.  But last weekend I would swear that there was nothing in the forecast other than a few scattered snow showers in the areas I planned to visit.  Thus, as I blearily tossed clothes into my suitcase early on Monday (a bad habit – I always wait until the day I leave to pack), I figured I wouldn’t need any boots, much less my heaviest coat.  In my mind this was just as well, because trying to jam them in would constitute a supreme nuisance.

Imagine my surprise, then, upon arriving at O’Hare only to discover that CNN was breathlessly predicting the Storm of the Century of the Century.  So dire were the predictions of snow accumulation, and so keenly aware was I that the only shoes I had were a pair of loafers and my deck shoes, that my toes began to spontaneously contract frostbite even before I got out of the terminal. 

Mulling on this, I suggested to my colleague that perhaps we ought to stop at the Timberland outlet store on the interstate once we’d cleared Chicago.  “Oh, good!” she replied, “I love shoe shopping! And you really will need a pair of boots.”

Thus, we duly pulled off.  All the way in from the parking lot, my young friend babbled happily about all the different styles and options, and about the fun of trying so many different pairs.  I’m afraid that in this I disappointed her mightily, because within thirty seconds of our entering the store I had seen exactly what I needed, found the right size and said, “Okay, let’s go.”  Real men don’t “shop” for shoes.

Thus more properly equipped, I duly pointed my nose west, fetching up on the banks of the Mighty Mississip on Monday evening.  Our original plan had been to do some work there Tuesday, drive out to Des Moines Tuesday night, drive back to the Quad Cities Wednesday night, finish up on Thursday and drive back to Chicago on Friday.

Well, as you might imagine, it didn’t turn out that way.  By Tuesday morning it was perfectly obvious that to set forth into the wilds of Iowa would be downright insane.  So we made a flurry of calls to rearrange court reporters and conference rooms and whatnot, and instead hunkered down for a couple days where we were.

I must say that I don’t believe I’ve ever really been in a blizzard (especially a Midwest Special), at least not since I was a baby too young to know what was happening.  What was remarkable was the wind – which really, really kicked up – and the amount of snow it blew around, even after it stopped actually snowing.  At one point on Wednesday I found myself staring out my hotel window at the sun over the River, pale and fleeting through the swirling clouds of snowflakes.  For some reason, I thought of Hannibal crossing the Alps.  Brr.

Anyhoo, by Thursday morning (a balmy -27 degrees with the windchill), the storm was gone and the sun was out as we began crawling about to our various rendezvous.  By that time it really wasn’t bad anymore, especially with the bright blue skies and calmer winds.  Finishing up our biznay there later in the afternoon, we proceeded to head west in order to make our postponed meeting in Des Moines.   It was then that we saw the true wisdom of our decision to postpone the trek: It’s about 200 miles from Davenport, Iowa to Des Moines along I-80.  In that stretch, we counted more than 70 wrecks – cars, trucks and semis in the ditch, on the median, flipped over on their sides and backs, crumpled into rubble.  And that was just what we could see through our own headlights – Lord knows what else was hidden in the shadows.

So that was Robbo’s Blizzard of ’09.  There’s not much else to tell – we flew back home from Des Moines last evening.  But there is one thing:  Owing to a fortuitous foul-up at the rental place at O’Hare, we were given a brand-spanking new Jeep Wrangler 4-door.  After having driven it from Chicago to Des Moines, along interestates, secondary highways, urban streets and back-roads, in dry, wet and icy conditions, all I can say is this:

We wants it! We waaaaaaaants it!!!

The 4-door is a lovely thing indeed.  In fact, it’s what the Hummer could or should have been, had it not come with an intense inferiority complex and fear of inadequacy as standard features.  The 4-door is wider than my little 2-door, making it much more stable.  It’s heavier, too, so is not so inclined to slip about – even on the ice, with the 4WD I didn’t feel the slightest bit concerned.  And it seats 5.  On the flip side, it really doesn’t have that much more storage space than a 2-door – one could hardly envision taking the whole family on a long trip in the thing, but then again the impracticality has always been one of the great charms of the Wrangler to begin with.

As I was chatting one evening with Mrs. Robbo after a long day’s drive, I casually mentioned that with such a car I could be much more useful in terms of hauling gels and groceries about.

“No,” she explained.

Ah, well.


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December 2009