Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Flannery O'Connor: Today The Spirits Of The South Converge!

One of the nation's finest writers, Flannery O'Connor, was born on this day in Savannah, Georgia in 1925. She spent her early childhood there on Lafayette Square with its moss-draped live oaks, colorful azaleas, abundance of birds, and towering spires of The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Things haven't changed much on this beautiful square. I'm sure it still has a interesting spectrum of regular visitors. Children play on the sidewalks and lawns. And every day, the cathedral bells remind the people of God's love and their obligations as His children. I think as long as you can visit 

Lafayette Square, say on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, you can know O'Connor well.

The family moved to Atlanta in 1938, where her father was diagnosed with lupus. Soon after, they moved to her mother's family home in Milledgeville, about 100 miles southeast of Atlanta. After his death in 1941, O'Connor moved a few miles north of town to her uncle's farm where she lived with her mother. Eventually, the farm would be called Andalusia, and become a refuge following her own diagnosis with lupus in 1950. At Andalusia, she would weave her rural Georgia experience and her childhood memories into some of America's finest literature.

Lupus took Flannery O'Connor from us in 1964 when she was in her 39th year. You can visit both her childhood home and Andalusia thanks to foundations that preserve the landscapes and memories she cherished. And, thanks to her, you can visit the South anytime by simply opening one of her books.

Many years ago the management at Andalusia removed scores of the offspring of O'Connor's beloved peacocks to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a large Trappist estate about two and a half miles from our ridge top home. At that time the area was still quite rural and the peacocks flourished in and around the monastery grounds. On a quiet evening it was not unusual for us to hear them calling faintly in the distance. Eventually , they were removed and for a decade or so there has been no  call to break the silence. But we do remember those urgent and sometimes fearful calls in the dusk. Today the woods remain a gallery of sounds. Some we know well. Others we may not recognize so easily. Those of us who know O'Connor and her work well may find it difficult to distinguish between the peacock, the author's veil, or the rich spirit world that inhabits her American South.  After all, in the ancient traditions of the Catholic world the peacock is the symbol of immortality.

If you have never read O'Connor, there is still time to visit the netherworlds she cherished. But don't wait too long!

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