Tag Archives: Logos Bookstore

My Finest Hour in New York

24 May

“Let me see new ones every day! let me hold new ones by the hand every day! Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhattan!”
~ Walt Whitman

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Humorous Funeral Cards: Of Luther, Chicago, and Beating Death

3 Jan

Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
~ Wendell Berry

rare-medium-well-done-bookstore-2Tidying up around my house can be an exercise in liberal arts education – you should receive CEUs for it.

Like this morning: A random copy of Salinger’s Franny and Zooey abandoned on the front table; a Bible (RSV) here, a book of saints there; Stephen King and Christopher Dawson, The Wall Street Journal and The Catholic Worker a jumbled, lettered mess, like the rest of the house. Who’s in charge around here anyway?

And then, some comic relief: a Dilbert collection (open at random), let’s see:

DILBERT: How are you coming on designing your greeting cards for death occasions?

DOGBERT: Okay. Now I’m working on the humorous angle.

That’s not the punchline, but it’s plenty funny in itself, and it reminds me of a day I was behind the counter at the Chicago Logos Bookstore many years ago. A coiffed, be-furred woman hastily rummaged through our greeting cards, and then approached me in a huff. “Are all your sympathy cards out?” she demanded.

“I believe so,” was my reply. “Can I help….”

She interrupted – “Don’t you have any humorous sympathy cards?”

I paused; my manager, Dale, standing nearby, the perpetual cigarette dangling from his lips, froze; somewhere, I imagine, a cricket sounded. “Humorous sympathy cards?” I timidly ventured.

“Yeah,” she fired back, “like, ‘I don’t give a darn’” – only she didn’t say darn.

Dale prudently turned away, and I managed a straight face somehow – grace, no doubt. “I’m sorry, nothing like that.” She turned and shook the dust from her feet.

It’s a story I’ve told many times (as my longsuffering kids can testify), and I’ve got lots more where that came from. Working at a bookstore in the heart of the city was an adventure – rarely a dull moment – and you could always count on having a story to tell when you made your way home in the evening.

In the case of my card-shopper friend, it was a story with a moral as well. After she left the store, Dale and I chuckled over her request – “Could you believe that?” Of course, it would be wholly cruel to send such a card to anyone, and so it’s unthinkable that any store would sell them (besides, I suppose, some entity like The Onion).

greco_francisNevertheless, the more I’ve thought about it over the years, the more I’ve come to appreciate the encounter’s memorable association of humor with death – never the pain, nor the bereavement and loss, but only the end of life itself. There’s no question that death is an enemy – our “last enemy” in the words of the Catechism – but we Christians are bound to laugh in the face of that enemy, for he’s already beaten. “O Lord God, ought we not to rejoice and not only serve gladly,” wrote Martin Luther of our response to redemption, “but suffer and laugh at death for the sake of him who has given us such a treasure?”

I love St. Francis, and I get his Canticle’s embrace of Sister Death, “from whom no living man can escape.” But if death really is an enemy, then it deserves the card-shopper’s insolence and Luther’s sass. “When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell,” he instructed, “we ought to speak thus: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it?’”

There are worse things than death – including not being able to laugh at it.

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