Andy, five years old, is standing on his chair at the dinner table and using his fork to make the sign of the cross. Having coated his spaghetti with grated cheese until it is a lovely paste, he is now draping a strand over his ear. From where I sit, I can see piles of junk mail on the radiator and peeling linoleum in the kitchen.
It just didn’t seem right, reflecting on my father’s life and death in the midst of a city where neither of us had spent much time. There were no familiar places that stirred memories of time together, no specific places where I could go to recall the significant events surrounding his death. I was thousands of miles away from his grave.
Our hopes are a measure of our greatness. When they shrink, we ourselves are diminished. The story of American hope over the past two centuries is one of increasing narrowing—or so argues Andrew Delbanco in The Real American Dream.
When I bought the land where I now live, there was nothing on it but trees, cows and fescue. The first question the builder asked me was, “Where’s your well?” I tried to hide my surprise. I had temporarily forgotten that water comes from the earth, not the sink. Of course there would have to be a well.
I first heard the Lord’s Prayer in Mexico, during a family trip when I was 11 years old. I strayed from the Oaxaca market square, where my parents were bargaining over black pottery, and slipped into an old stone church, cool and dark. There were clusters of women in lace mantillas, and one or two solitary old men. Some were silent.