On RomanceMARK SHEA
I've been watching old Jimmy Stewart movies again, which always has a strong effect on me.
instance, there's a moment in Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington when the innocent young senator is trying to draft
a bill to build a boy's camp back in his home state. His hard-boiled secretary,
Saunders, (she doesn't use her first name much), is cynically taking notes in
the firm belief that he is a naïve rube who won't get to first base. Then, he
starts talking about what he loves about his home. The grass bent under the wind
out on the prairie, the mountains in the evenings, the sorts of things that people
have always struggled to describe in saying just why they love a place. And it
is right here that the camera does something that it used to do all the time in
old movies and seldom does anymore: a soft-focus close up of the woman's face
as she sees him for the first time and begins to love and savor
Modern movies have little time for characters to simply see each
other any more. They are in too much of a hurry to do that. Characters must, in
slavish obedience to the iron law of the sexual revolution, instantly pass from
nearly glimpsing one another to bed. There must, in all films, be the OSS (Obligatory
It is the terrible loss of the ability to see, to savor, to really enjoy another
person that is, I sometimes think, the central tragedy of the sexual revolution
and all the scorn and "demystification of sex" that we Baby Boomers have called
down on the world like a plague. In a hundred ways, we (and now our children)
are continually shamed into thinking there is something wrong with us if we do
not instantly pass from the initial moment of attraction to a tumble between the
sheets. It is the microwave burger approach to human relationships and the result
has been a ghastly cheapening of our culture.
I read a lovely piece recently
in the Seattle Times about a man who recently lost his wife after 54 years
of marriage. He was shipped to Washington state in the middle of WWII for Army
training and saw her across a crowded room, just like in a Jimmy Stewart movie.
He was "sweet on her" as they said at the time. She liked him and they started
exchanging, not sophisticated double entendres like every movie and TV character
today, but letters. Letters about simple things in simple un-ironic language ("Gee,
I think you're swell."). When he got a day off, he would come to her house and,
instead of leaping into bed, they sat on the porch and talked. They courted. It
was romantic. They took time to see, really see, each other and to savor what
they saw and heard. And after he spent two years in the Pacific War, watching
members of his unit be slaughtered under murderous fire, he kept writing simple
lovely letters to his girl, and she to him, till he came home and they were married.
That marriage lasted 54 years and those yellow letters now sustain him in his
loss. I still get choked up by the piece.
When June comes around, I think of that generation
most of all and the sense of romance and seeing that they preserve still
to this day. If there is any double portion of their spirit that I could beg from
God as a mercy for our desiccated and utterly prosaic Boomer Generation of doglike
devotion to appetite, it would be the ability to recover that simple honest ability
to take time to see with the savoring eyes of love (under a June moon, of course)
and to be free of the hustle, shame and pressure that the sex machine of American
commerce has so successfully palmed off on us as "liberty."
Mark Shea. "On Romance." Catholic Exchange
This article reprinted with permission from Mark Shea.
Shea is Senior Content Editor for Catholic Exchange. You may visit his website
at www.mark-shea.com or check out his blog,
Catholic and Enjoying It!. Mark
is the author of Making Senses
Out of Scripture: Reading the Bible as the First Christians Did (Basilica),
By What Authority?: An Evangelical
Discovers Catholic Tradition (Our Sunday Visitor), and This
Is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers the Real Presence (Christendom).
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