I need to buy a new bathing cap. The black one I now own is starting to split. Sometimes I feel like I'm measuring out my life in new bathing caps - (how pathetic) - which I always purchase at Mary's and Joe's Sporting Goods in Albany. Let's see, I guess I've been buying bathing caps there for thirty years. I used to swim at the Albany High School pool, and now I swim at the Y in Berkeley.
The store is still owned by Mary's and Joe's family. My partner, G, used to eat breakfast every morning with Joe at the counter of the old Golden Bear restaurant at Gilman and San Pablo, now Genki Japanese food. I remember Joe, a sharp spare man with a narrow face and thinning hair, a small smile playing always about his lips and a sparkle of slightly devilish humor in his eye. Joe died suddenly in his fifties of a heart attack. It was difficult at first, but Mary and their kids and grandkids have carried on the business, a nice large Catholic (most likely) Italian family. I like shopping there. They serve all the Catholic high schools and so forth in the area. Reminds me of growing up in Philadelphia, which had a large Italian Catholic population when I lived there.
Catholicism has been on 'hard times' lately, what with all the sex-scandals, but it has its good points too. It has been known to produce some very positive, ethical, thoughtful (as in cerebrally active) people. Old Catholicism had a somewhat incestuous relationship with Islam for many years, from which I believe it benefited in ways that benefited me. One of the things that really worked for me in Catholicism was its contemplative wing, its allowing and even cultivating of silent prayer - communing with the Divine, if you will - even if only as a sort of side-offering, the main offerings being sacramental life and missionary activity. But the introverts had a place in the Church too. Also it's had a tradition of a life-style combining work and spiritual reading, which seems to be the life-pattern I am following, without really 'intending' to, it's just come naturally. I think the work and spiritual reading pattern is Benedictine, which was a quite pervasive influence and model of Christian life at an early period of the expansion of the Church in Europe, hence its deep influence in later Catholicism.
Early on, Catholicism embraced an ideal of perpetual virginity, making sexual matters central to its spiritual ideal. Family life was in there somewhere, but it was 'lesser' than the life of perpetual virginity. Certainly at some times in human history it seems as if people flock to the life of perpetual virginity, but at other times - easier times - the constant focus on virginity becomes more difficult to navigate. Many of the men who became priests in the twentieth century received little or no formation in how to deal with emotional and sexual needs. So...in addition to the sex-scandals, we see a high level of alcoholism and mild forms of mental illness in that population.
Well, back to happier themes - back to my bathing cap! - I find my time at the Y, both swimming in the pool and also sitting in the little steam room, to be a very meditative and restorative part of my day. A kind of athletic monasticism seems to balance me and bring me back to myself. I'm so grateful for the Y.