To comprehend this post, readers must understand the world of 1962. Something happened in America that dramatically changed our view of ourselves and the world around us, and its tentacles reach into the present day. It brought a sense of futility, a resignation that we are powerless over the great tides of history sweeping us up into their grip, and resistance to evil is futile. So look out for Number One, and live for the moment! It is the great lie of our age.
For a brief glimpse of the world of 1962, and the forces of change it brought, have a look at “The Beatification of Pope John Paul II.” I’ll keep this brief so you might find time to go read it.
I turned nine years old in April of 1962. Five months later, I began fifth grade a year younger than everyone else in my class. A month after that, the United States and the Soviet Union approached the very brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962. The administration of President John F. Kennedy discovered that the Soviet Union had placed strategic nuclear missiles in Cuba. Diplomacy failed miserably, and it just exposed our impotence. The United States demanded removal of the missiles and the Soviet Union flatly refused. President Kennedy ordered a naval blockage of Cuba. Kennedy and Khrushchev were all that stood between us and nuclear annihilation. Fear and deep anxiety saturated everything – even the 5th grade.
When it ended, so did our innocence. We were vulnerable in a fragile world, and the anxiety never really left us. It was, perhaps in hindsight, the wrong moment for some of the great black and white science fiction films of the fifties to start running as matinees in a local cinema.
I did not understand then that some of those great films were really paradigms of the Cold War, containing within them all the fear and paranoia the Soviet Empire brought to our young minds. Films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and – my favorite of all – “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are today considered Cold War classics.
INVADERS FROM MARS
I wrote of the North of Boston where I grew up in “February Tales.” Going to a movie theatre was a rare occurrence in 1962. It meant venturing downtown, sometimes alone. Lynn, Massachusetts had two downtown cinemas in 1962, the Paramount and the Capitol. The latter was in Lynn’s Central Square, and it only opened at night – its marquee preceding every title with a large, mysterious “XXX.” It was strictly off limits.
It took a bit of courage back then for a 9-year-old to board a city bus alone for a Saturday afternoon trek downtown. I reveled in my freedom, but my parents had spies everywhere. When once I ventured too close to the Capitol marquee to see what all those Xs were about, there was hell to pay when I got home!
The Paramount had a Saturday matinee for .35 cents. Lynn’s Daily Evening Item carried an alluring ad, a miniature version of the movie poster for that week’s feature, “Invaders from Mars.” It portrayed a boy my age, aghast at his bedroom window by the scene of a spaceship landing at midnight in an empty field behind his house.
There was really no need for scary movies then. We were already all frightened enough, and those who claimed they were not were lying. But perhaps as kids we were all looking for outlets for our fear, because the real story of politics and nuclear bombs made no sense to us at all. Scary movies became the in thing, and I couldn’t wait to see “invaders from Mars.”
Thirty-five cents for admission was no challenge at all then. There were always a few soda bottles to be found (yes, in Boston they were called “soda” bottles), and a little rummaging through the easy chair where my father watched a worried-looking Walter Cronkite every night yielded bus fare, and, if I was lucky, enough for that week’s special matinee snack, a Mars Bar.
It rained that Saturday, so just about every kid stuck inside was given bus fare to go see “Invaders from Mars.” The movie was preceded by a few cartoons to quiet us down, then it began. You could hear a pin drop. All the anxiety we had pent up within us was about to play out on the screen.
After the spaceship landed in that field, the boy in the film fell asleep. In the morning, he wondered whether it was all a dream. At breakfast, his mother and father and brother were acting very strangely. At school, his teacher and fellow students were strange, too. As he investigated, the story brought him to an underground tunnel where Martian zombies took direction from a squid-like mastermind managing the takeover of everyone’s mind and soul from its protected glass sphere. Those who today say there is really nothing to fear didn’t live through the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was utterly terrified.
When the movie was over and the lights came on, the older kids who had been throwing popcorn at us all disappeared into the streets. The kids in the middle, who were all my age, sat silently traumatized as the curtain closed. “Invaders From Mars” scared the &#§@ out of me! By the time I came to my senses all the kids I knew had scattered. None wanted to be seen in the fits of fright with which they departed “Invaders from Mars.
A GLORIOUS MYSTERY
Out on a rainy, darkened Union Street in downtown Lynn, I had missed the bus. It would be an hour before another came, and I had a sudden intense longing for the safety of home. So I set out on foot to walk the three miles through the city streets as it grew dark. Even today, when I am feeling vulnerable, anxious and alone, I dream of that trek at age nine through the city streets at night. I once wrote of that recurring dream in “Nightmares and Dreamscapes from the Desert.”
As I walked home on that day, my imagination raced ahead of me, and I felt fragile and alone. I was on the edge of tears for an accumulation of reasons I could never articulate. At times, the reality of feeling vulnerable strikes hard. I knew there were no evil Martian zombies, but I had an ill-defined sense that evil had just paid our world a visit and it changed us. We lived in a dangerous world, then, and since then its danger has exponentially grown.
And so on into the rain I walked. I walked alone, through a part of the city kids like me didn’t usually venture into. The darkness grew – both in the skies above me and deep, deep within me. You know what I mean for at one time or another, you have been there too. All light had gone out of the world. All hope had been drained away. Then the torrent came.
I’m not sure which soaked me more, the rain or the tears. I rarely cried as a boy – it was just hell if my older brother ever saw me crying – but the rain was making me shiver. I cannot ever forget that day. When I looked behind me in the dim darkness, someone was following me. A dark figure in a raincoat who stopped whenever I stopped. I tried to run, and when I did, he ran too.
There on the downtown city street, about a mile from the movie theatre, I came upon the imposing, looming spires of Saint Joseph Church. We didn’t spend much time in churches when I was growing up. The church’s dark brick façade and immensity seemed to stretch into the rumbling clouds. It felt almost as scary as “Invaders from Mars” and that ominous figure trailing somewhere behind me.
But the rain kept coming, and I had no choice. I climbed the steep marble steps of Saint Joseph Church, and just as I got to the top to duck into an alcove, a massive door opened next to me, and scared whatever wits I had left right out of me. It was, of all people, a police officer. I looked back down the street and the man in the overcoat had fled. “Get out of the rain, kid!” barked the officer as he shuffled me through the door on his way out. “And say a prayer for me while you’re in there,” he commanded. So in I went, almost against my will.
The church was massive. I had received my First Communion there two years earlier, but had never been back since. In the dim lights, I walked toward the sanctuary, and at the Communion rail, I knelt. I looked back toward the church doors, but no one had followed me in. I was alone, but a sense of safety slowly came over me. At some point it struck me that the police officer had come in here to pray and that thought impressed and comforted me. So I stayed for awhile.
Then I saw her! The great carved image in the sanctuary before me was crowned with light, and she held a child in her arms as though presenting Him to me. She was incredibly beautiful, but it was the creature beneath her feet that really gripped my attention and wouldn’t let it go. I stared in utter wonder at what was subdued beneath her feet. It was ugly, and all too real. It looked like the creature in the glass sphere that so terrified me in “Invaders from Mars.” It was trapped under her feet – under a soul that magnified the Lord.
Then the Martians left me. The pursuer in the street left me. The missiles, and Khrushchev, and the Cold War left me. I felt, more than saw, the light come back into my world. The pulsing sobs, now still felt but unheard, left me, and a vista of hope broke through the clouds of doubt and fear. The look on her face was radiant, and she spoke to me. It wasn’t in words. It was deep, deep in the very place where fear had gripped my soul. I could not take my eyes from what was subdued beneath her feet. “Trust!” she said, and “Peace be with you.” And it was.
On that day she lifted me up out of a pit. Then years later, when once we met again, she humbled me, and I needed that, too. I tried to write about this in “Mirror of Justice, Mother of God, Mystical Rose, Our Lady of Sorrows,” but my words could not really ever do her justice.
Fifty years have passed since that day. A half century. On the wall of this prison cell is an image of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of prisoners and writers and the patron of These Stone Walls and this imprisonment. He’s Pornchai’s patron, too, and this changed everything for him. His feast day was August 14.
Next to him on our cell wall is that image, the one I saw at age nine. I don’t know where it came from. It appeared one day in a letter to Pornchai and went quickly up onto his wall. I wrote once of the images on our cell wall in “Angelic Justice: Saint Michael the Archangel and the Scales of Hesed.”
Reason for hope is a very great gift. Never again let the sun go down on your fear. When the Glorious Mysteries seem too unworldly to fathom, then look beneath her feet. What is there will look very familiar to you, and you will know what it means. The key to resisting evil is trust that the strife may not yet be over, but the battle is already won.