For days now – no, weeks – I have floundered about in a tumbling sea of thoughts searching for a theme to treat this Dia de Los Muertes. Despite a plethora of ideas nothing stuck. Nothing held out a promise that it could be sufficiently developed. If it is one lesson I learned well in my journalism classes at Marquette it was that a story basically falls into place once you have the right lead.
With no lead to follow I decided to step back a bit, change course, do something else. So, off to the basement to deal with the chaos of my office. It has been sinking under quite the sea of books and driving me bat-crazy. In the midst of the rearranging and sorting, in true Butler (‘Comme je trouve’) fashion, I found it. A letter.
I’d been considering the theme that death, or the dead, can teach us about life and living, but I feared I’d sound preachy. Yeck. The letter, however, was not going to let me back away from the theme. The sender, one Arthur Olszyk, has been gone nearly twenty years, but in the roughly fifteen years before his passing he was a dear, dear friend and mentor.
Art Olszyk had been a reporter, news writer, radio and television news editor (WTMJ in Milwaukee), and producer. He had been the President of the Milwaukee Area Broadcast News Association. He literally wrote the book on Milwaukee’s broadcast news industry, “Live … At the Scene.” Art Olszyk was also an instructor of broadcast journalism at Marquette University. He was one of several professional journalists from the Milwaukee area teaching there, among them Paul Salsini, reporter, state editor and staff development director at the Milwaukee Journal, and Michael Bednarek, education reporter at the Milwaukee Journal.
I focused on print journalism in my curriculum, but I met Mr. Olszyk through my college work – study job in the dean’s office. He would stop and chat with me as I ran off dittos and mimeos, as I collated and stapled, and I came to trust his kindness and wisdom.
In the years after I graduated, until his passing, we maintained a treasured correspondence. We wrote one another about most everything – health issues, travels, my young family – and he and his wife spent an afternoon and evening with the four of us when they stopped by along the route of a trip to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. We talked and laughed, and he sat and ‘played Legos’ with my sons, about whom he’d heard so much.
It is true that I have missed him, but it is also true that I am happy he is enfolded, shall I say, in the light. So, to find this letter in the midst of chaos was – is – a lovely burst of sunlight.
The first ray of light from the letter was this advice: “If I could be the ‘mentor’ a step further, please continue to question yourself, but see it rather in a perfecting light and not as planting the seeds of self-doubt.” Immediately my thought flew to a portion of William Butler Yeats’s “The Two Trees” (1893): “Gaze no more in the bitter glass/The demons, with their subtle guile,/Lift up before us when they pass,/Or only gaze a little while;/For there a fatal image grows …”
This voice of a friend, a voice from the light, was echoing St. Paul (I Cor. 13:12 NKJV), “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”
Art wrote that he was “happy to be writing all this to you because it forces me to look at myself, to be sure I am following my own advice.” It is a lovely thought that regardless of our situation we can help one another in this dance of life.
The missive ended thusly: “In closing, keep before you that gift spoken of by Christ when he said, ‘MY Peace I leave to you.’ You can only find it in yourself and you are doing some of the finest searching for that of anyone I know. You are helping me search for mine.”
With that another portion of Yeats’s “The Two Trees” came to mind: “Beloved gaze in thine own heart,/The holy tree is growing there;/From joy the holy branches start,/And all the trembling flowers they bear.”
Barbara Butler McCoy, 2012
[Photos: Barbara Butler McCoy, Nov. 23, 2010, Dawn at the Outer Banks.]