Friday, December 28, 2007


The video I posted, under the title "Acqua fresca," features my grandmother, Lena Dougherty, at her ninetieth birthday party, singing a folk song from Piedmonte, the region in Italy where both of her parents were born and raised until their early teens, before they moved to central Illinois to be caught up in the coal mining business.

Grandma Dougherty lived for three more years after her ninetieth birthday. As I stood beside her open casket at the funeral home visitation, one of her neighbors approached my mother and I to inform us, "That old lady in there," he pointed to the coffin, "Was tougher 'n a two-dollar steak."

What he said was true. But, being human, she also contained contradictions and paradoxes. She had a tenderness, too. Perhaps both her toughness and her tenderness can be seen in the video?

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."