Friday, January 29, 2016


            City living challenges me.  Though I love the museums, theaters, restaurants, concerts, and opera, I abhor trash.  I find rudeness hard to excuse.  I have learned to fear bicycles.  And, although I once was one myself, I increasingly disdain runners. 

            Not that I would want them not to run, mind you; but I continually shudder when someone flies past me from behind without warning.  Walking along the sidewalk early one morning, I stepped to the left, headed for the bakery.  At that precise moment a young woman, so light on her feet that I did not hear her approach, collided with me.  It could have been bad, a bump strong enough to knock one or both of us over.  Fate saved us.  She got by and I got by with a mere, “I’m sorry” from each of us.

            The same thing could happen in a small town, or a village, or out in the countryside.  But packed into a small area, hundreds of thousands of people continually bump into each other, jostling one another, competing for space, needing elbow room, or just trying to carry on daily routines like running, hoping and expecting that nothing and no one will interfere.  Cities magnify the dilemmas of human community.  Poverty is more visible, stress and anger more audible. 

            In a strange way one is more dependent on the tolerance and kindness of others in a city.  Life would be unbearably brutal if there were not some unspoken pact that hosts of strangers would be, on the whole, nice to each other, anonymously respectful.  Exceptions occur.  Assaults happen.  Tempers flare.  Yet for the most part, human inhabitants of cities get along remarkably well. 

            I grew up in the country, went to school in small towns, have lived in suburbia much of my life.  I could believe indefinitely in such places that I am an individual, far from the madding crowd.  City life pushes me to recognize that other humans are not others at all.  They are parts of me and I of them.  There is not a dime’s worth of difference between my DNA and that of the runner who collided with me.  We are as grains on the seashore, as stars in the same constellation, as two molecules of water tumbling down a cataract.  The poor are parts of me, and the rich equally so. The most basic project tying us all together is survival.  In G. K. Chesterton’s words, “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”

            Those who know that are, in Jesus’ words, not far from the kingdom of God.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016               

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


The big snow of last weekend is receding.  It is now down to a mere 20”.  Rain today and tomorrow might do some of the work of removing it.

Temperatures have risen, but life is far from back to normal.  Traffic on side streets is still jammed. Sidewalks are treacherous.  And there is no place to park unless you are already parked.

Yesterday I set about the chore of digging out the car.  Job all done, snowed piled high on the few available feet between automobile and sidewalk, I looked at my finished project and said, “Damn ’f I move you.  Not about to ride around looking for a place to park after all this.”  So I will wait till the snow is much more nearly gone before I elect to drive anywhere. 

All dug out and no place to go.

We had a couple of huge snowstorms six years ago.  It was weeks before we could go anywhere.  Not because the roads were impassible, but because there was no place to park when we got to our destination, and no place to park when we returned.  Literally.  Truly.  And, believe it or not, life changed permanently.   The months-long break kept us away from weekly dancing.  It interrupted and nearly killed our regular yoga discipline. It prevented regular visits to the gym for I don’t know how long. 

What do people do when something really calamitous happens?  War, for example.  When the entire landscape explodes, when the high-rise that is home looks like a pathetic trashed doll house with no façade, and one-time private family quarters hang exposed for all to see, what do people do?  How do they cope?  

Of course, I shouldn’t complain about something as minor as a snowstorm.  It is a hangnail compared to the horrors of an eviscerated world.  So I won’t complain.  I think I’ll be grateful.  Not because we got off easy, with minimal disruption, but because this irritating little incident is about the only thing in my life that can make me a tad more aware of what many in the world have to deal with day in and day out. 

Much of the world’s population is in the fix of the rabbit at the beginning of Watership Down crying “Zoar!” because an earthmover has bulldozed his warren and the tragedy is unbearable.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016


Written in 2012

            We in the family called him “Tad.”  He was my mother’s first cousin, one that from the tone of her voice when she spoke of him or from the light in her eyes when she saw him, was perhaps her favorite.  A pretty good artist, Tad once responded to Mama’s commission to paint for her a fairly large rendition in oil of a still life of magnolia blossoms.  A better painting was his depiction called “Autumn at Tiger Bay,” the memory of the woods around their ancestral farm.  Not only talented, Tad was incredibly good-looking.  A head of coal-black hair that never turned to very much gray, sharp features, dark eyes with a kind look all gave him beauty.

            Tad—Calvin King Burroughs was the real name he bore—died recently at the age of 93.  His son sent me a bevy of photos taken throughout his father’s life.  One of the earliest shows an incredibly handsome youth in army uniform with his company in World War II.  In other snapshots he is playing with children, then grandchildren, dressed in a dinner jacket on a cruise perhaps, showing up for graduations, plucking oranges from a tree, sporting a cowboy hat, sitting in a backyard with extended family all around, holding the hand of his wife, a graceful man in his old age.

            Not all of us are so lucky as Tad.  Bodies fall apart sometimes at a very early age.  Bones snap, muscles weaken, teeth gray, brain cells atrophy.  Few of us, in youth or mid-life or even well past retirement age, figure that we will be among those who fade and wither away.  We imagine that we will escape the ravages of age, or most of them.  Go to a nursing home?  Not I!  Lose my memory?  Not if I can help it.  Become stooped, hard of hearing, bleary-eyed?  Never, as long as I am committed to being young.  Tad was lucky that way.  I talked to him a couple of years ago. His memory was incredibly sharp.  His good looks never succumbed entirely to wrinkles and spots.

            Fighting mortality, falling for one promise after another than we can beat death, is the chief human preoccupation, the seed of all our neuroses, the foundation of our gargantuan schemes for amassing power and control.  All of it is about staving off the inevitability of death.  Saving us from aging is a growth industry.

            Mortality is a gift, one of the Creator’s finest.  We are born, we live, we die.  Why fight it?  The issue is not how long we can look young, but how we can live every day to the fullest, gracefully aging all the way.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2012

Monday, January 25, 2016


            Richard, who worked as the foreman of the lumber manufacturing company for which my mother was bookkeeper, had a problem with alcohol.  Habitually he came into the office on Monday morning, asking for an advance in pay against the check he would get at the end of the week.  Mr. Joe, President of the company, finally told the women in the office, “No more advances for Richard.”

            The following Monday morning, Richard came into the office and asked for an advance.  The lady at the counter said no, and explained Mr. Joe’s directive.  “But this is an emergency,” explained Richard.  Bea, his wife, he went on to say, had to go to the hospital. 

            “What on earth?” inquired Lib.

            “Well, it’s like this.  She was sitting on the commode.  My shotgun was standing in the corner.  It was loaded.  Somehow the gun fell. When it did, it went off and shot the commode out from under Bea.  She fell over, banged her arm on the tub and broke it.  Hit her head on a piece of the tank.  Wonder she’s alive.”

            Lib told Richard to stay put until she could consult with Mr. Joe.  Choking back her laughter, she could hardly hold it until she got to Mr. Joe’s office where she erupted, giggling until she cried, spilling out the impossible yarn.  Mr. Joe shook his head and said, “Give him the advance.  Anybody that could make up that good a story deserves it.”

            A week or so later, Bea came into the office.  “Bea!” one of the women exclaimed.  “Whatever happened, Bea?” 

            “I guess you wouldn’t believe it,” said Bea.  “I was sitting,” she whispered, “on the commode, when Richard’s gun fell down and went off and fired right between my legs and blew me off the seat.”  Jaws dropped.  Eyes widened. 
            Someone said, “Well I’ll be.”

            Truth.  Sometimes what seems preposterous turns out to be true after all.

            Much of the time we operate as if what is true is whatever is most believable.  And what is most easily believed is not infrequently what accords with our preconceptions of what is possible.  Or likely.  These are not necessarily bad assumptions, just not very dependable.

            The Buddha once asked some monks, “If a blind turtle were swimming in the oceans of the world and also a wooden yoke, and this blind turtle came up for air once every hundred years, could she put her head through that yoke?”  The monks declared it impossible. 

            “Not impossible,” said the Buddha.  “Improbable, but not impossible.” 

            Just because we cannot imagine something does not mean it cannot be.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2012

Saturday, January 23, 2016


            I’ve been thinking seriously lately about changing my name.

            It won’t be the first time.

            “Mama, please.”  I begged her to let me change my name.  I couldn’t stand it.  Francis was a confusing name.  People kept wondering if I was a girl or a boy, or pretending that they were confused and thus confused me.  Relatives kept mixing me up with Uncle Loney’s son Francis.  “Don’t Loney have a boy named Francis?” they’d say when introduced (so to say) to me.  And worst of all, there was a movie star by that name.  Francis the Talking Mule he was called.  He was funny enough.  I’d even laughed uncontrollably when taken to the movies to see Francis.  But I didn’t laugh when, having gotten swatted down by the teacher for talking too much, the playground mantra was “Francis, Francis, Francis the talking mule.”  Set, of course, to that ancient and transcultural tune, na-na-na-na-na.
            I knew that on the first day of second grade, I’d hear it all again.  “Don’t you want us just to nickname you?” Mama asked.  No way.  The teacher would have my real name in front of her when she called the roll.   And it would all start again.

            We experimented with some names.  Franklin, France, Frankie.  Finally I decided that I wanted to be named and called the same thing:  Frank. 

            And so it was.  Mama wrote the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Columbia, did the paperwork, paid fifty cents, and that was that. 

            Relatives caught on relatively quickly.  Schoolmates soon forgot I was ever called anything else.  In a seminary course, I studied the significance of name giving and, recalling the story of my own name, came to some rather important insights about my own personality and history.  Somewhere I discovered the connection between “Frank” and “free.”  I like that.  I am also mindful of the consistency of being Frank and being frank.  I like that too.

            But somewhere down deep, there is a little boy calling to Frank.  He is stronger now at 70 than he was at 7.  He has little trouble enduring the taunts and sniping of—well, of whom?  He has gotten over the playground battles and really has outlasted some of his severest enemies.  His picture, dressed in drag at age 4, for which costume he won the blue ribbon in the Kiddie Parade in Conway, South Carolina, along with ten bright shiny new pennies, hangs in Frank’s study above his desk. 

            He remembers Mr. Ragan, the minister who baptized him about that same time, touching the water in the old Methodist bowl and calling him, “Francis Gasque…,” mispronouncing the middle name as “Gas-kee.”  He has liked it over the years when friends have nicknamed Frank “Francis.”  He keeps poking Frank, testing to see whether Frank might do him some honor by inviting him to come out and be heard. 

            It was Grandmother Dunn who named me Francis.  Not until several years ago, flipping through a family genealogy of the Olivers, did I learn that her oldest brother, dead before I was born, known as “Uncle Frankie,” was actually named Francis.  She always loved me, perhaps about as unconditionally as anyone ever did.  Never once did she question my changing what she had given me.  I think from time to time what it would be like to reclaim her gift. 

            So I am listening to the voice of the little boy calling me in a voice just above a whisper.   I don’t need to change certificates and licenses and passport and credit cards.  It will be fine officially to be Frank for the duration.  But I think I might call myself Francis.
            The little Francis I love unconditionally.  I think it is time I told him so.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016