Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 32) transports me to the nostalgic tv land of 1963. Having already taken a trip down this memory lane this week, watching General Hospital’s 50th anniversary special, I thought it would be worth a Google to see what other network fare my family was watching back in the prime time of ’63, and I ran across one of my favorite Bonanza episodes. Little Joe happens upon a dying man as he travels toward Virginia City, and promises him that he will watch over his young charge, Cal. Later, Joe discovers that Cal is not what “he” appears to be; Cal is short for Calamity, as in Calamity Jane (wonderfully played by a young Stephanie Powers of Hart to Hart fame), who doesn’t want her gender discovered until she can claim her father’s inheritance. She brings her share of calamity to the Ponderosa, as Little Joe falls in love and makes a play for her (allowing for a nice bit of Shakespearean gender bending), which draws the ire of Calamity’s beau, none other than Doc Holliday. It must have fun being a tv writer for shows like Bonanza. They had plenty of rich material to draw from; the real life Martha Jane Canary was notorious for vices that one biographer described as the wide-open sins of a wide-open country. Her calamitous and wide-open sins included deceit, drunkenness, prostitution, and a propensity for violence.
The Psalmist might have had someone like Martha Jane Canary in mind when penning today’s poem, particularly verse 10: Many are the woes of the wicked. The Spanish translation is actually what prompted the Bonanza wheels to start spinning for me: Muchas son las calamidades de los malvados. Many are the calamities of the malevolent. These wicked malcontents have the moral compass of the horse or mule that Calamity Jane might have ridden, always in need of a bit and bridle. There is some gracious good news for the Psalmist, though, in the experience of forgiveneness. It is a merciful rescue from the rising waters of deception and delusion which threaten those who get caught up in and captivated by the wanderlust of the wide-open country of greed and violence and license.
We don’t know a whole lot about Martha Jane Canary’s spiritual life, or if she had an inclination toward faith at all. There is some historical evidence, though, that alongside her bravado, she did demonstrate at times a contrasting disposition of kindness and compassion, especially toward the diseased and destitute (at least among the white people; she was, after all, a notorious Indian fighter). Perhaps her own hardscrabble upbringing, and the death of her parents along the wagon trail that catapulted her into the head of house role in her early teen years, created at least some capacity for empathy. If so, she can be said to have been a bit dichoso (blissfully blessed) even while suffering her calamidades. This mixture rings true to me, and seems to be the experience of of the people I know – we live a mixture of blessing and woe, we are dichoso y calamitoso, as we can’t seem to help being captivated by the wanderlust of the world, but neither can we help being caught up in the wonders of grace and mercy, often in one fell swoop.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.