Wednesday, 10 September 2014

On relying on Tom Leopold’s comedy to prevent a suicide…

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day

Regular readers of my journalism will remember theinterview that I did with Tom Leopold that was carried in The Catholic Herald last winter.  It was providential that Leopold was in London – just when I requested an interview with him. He was working on The Kumars show. For one episode, he wrote a script for Daniel Radcliffe, which had Daniel putting an advert for a wife in The Times of India. Thousands of interested ladies replied!  

Tom Leopold got to know me last November, but as a huge fan of Seinfeld, I had been familiar with Leopold’s work for over a decade.  Tom was the story editor on several of the Season 3 Seinfeld episodes and set the groundwork for ‘the show about nothing’ to become one of the best-loved sit-coms in American television. He wrote the cult classic episodes, The Café and The Suicide, as well as co-writing the story for the Season 4 episode The Cheever Letters. 

Seinfeld Episode, The Cafe, written by Tom Leopold
I discovered Seinfeld when I was 17.  Watching my first episode was like watching TV for the very first time. Nothing I had ever seen or heard had made me laugh and forget my troubles like that 22 minute Seinfeld escape. 

I started praying for Tom Leopold when I was 18.  It may seem strange to pray for someone that I had never met.  I never expected to meet Leopold and be able to thank him in person.  So, when I was a young university student in Ireland, I prayed for him as a way of ‘giving something back’. 

But during my 20s, I had a much more serious reason for praying for Leopold.  As I mentioned in the original interview, ‘years ago I got hooked on Leopold’s comedy during a dark winter when I was pulling a suicidal friend out of a depression. I kept myself upbeat by repeatedly watching some of the scenes that Leopold wrote for Seinfeld…’

To be more precise, I was at the side of a young pregnant woman who was being cruelly bullied by thugs. She wanted to die by her own hand, by swallowing a lethal cocktail.  

 It was a bitterly frosty winter, and I would spend my days with the suicidal lady, pulling her back from the abyss and encouraging her to cut ties with the bullies who were mistreating her. 

After long days with the suicidal pregnant mother, I would be emotionally exhausted, and doubted if I had the strength to spend so much time with someone who yearned to drink a deathly draft. 

When I came home, my remedy for my hopelessness was to watch Seinfeld, which renewed me.  Most importantly, I was able to get a good night’s sleep after watching Seinfeld Season 3. People who have cared for pregnant suicidal women in distress know that it can be hard to sleep for fear that the woman will ‘do something stupid’ during the night. But I needed my sleep urgently.
At that time, I would repeatedly watch The Suicide, the Seinfeld episode that Leopold wrote.  It gave me a way of coping: the parallel black-comedy storyline about a man who attempts suicide but fails.  

At that time, when I was praying intensely for Leopold, a room-mate of mine at the time said, ‘I can’t understand why you pray for that Seinfeld writer. IT’S NOT LIKE ANY OF THOSE WRITERS WILL BECOME CATHOLIC!’

I prayed for Leopold out of gratitude. To understand my gratitude, you have to consider that I do not think I would have pulled the young woman out of despair, had I not been able to feed my mind with the mirth of Leopold’s comedy.

The lady survived her suicidal ideation, and she gave birth to a lovely baby.  She never had depression or mental illness per se, but was going through a phase of suicidal tendencies. Now, she can’t understand why she was so eager to die by her own hand, and reflects that, ‘I don’t know what came over me. It’s like I was a different person then’. 

During the years that I was praying the mysteries of the Rosary for Leopold, I didn’t know and never expected that he would convert to Catholicism. Some time later, I picked up a newspaper article and saw that Tom Leopold had become a Catholic.  I thought that I was dreaming. I watched an interview that Leopold gave on the inspiration behind The Cheever Letters, and made sure that the same writer was the one who had converted to Catholicism.

I’m not alone. Steven Spielberg relied on Seinfeldian comedy when he was making Schindler’s List. Spielberg watched Seinfeld Season 3 during filming breaks as a way of keeping his spirits up.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

What did YOU look like when you started school? Join the 'When I Started School' meme

The internet is still young. Most of us who document our lives have an identity problem. We present as a people without a past. 

The general public sees us in terms of the photos and insights that we post. So, if you started using sharing your life on the internet when you were 20, the world gradually sees you as having began life at 20!

The internet was an unheard of concept when most of us were kids. So, those of us who got to know each other on the internet are not aware of each others’ childhoods.

I’m starting a meme to remedy this.

What kind of child were you?

Are you a very different adult?

How to do the 'When I Started School' Meme

You don’t need a blog.  If you have a blog, you can do the post there, but if not, you can do the post on Twitter or Facebook. Some people might like to do all three: post on their blog, Facebook and Twitter. Please always use the tag, #WhenIStartedSchool to keep us together.

Post a photo of yourself from your early school days.

Answer the questions:

What kind of child were you?      Are you a very different adult?

Nominate at least three other bloggers and/or social media users. Tell them they have been nominated by leaving a comment on their blogs or by tweeting to them or posting on their wall on Facebook OR whichever method you prefer.

NB – YOU can chose as many bloggers and social media users as you like.

Give them a link back to this post on my blog that you are reading now, where they can find the instructions.

If they like, they can leave a comment here, mention who nominated them and say who they are nominating. This means that my readers are more likely to take an interest in their childhood reminiscences. 

I’LL start the meme rolling…   The picture you see above of the platinum blond child is me.

What kind of child were you?

I wrote about being ‘an emotional Benjamin Button’ in January. I was a deadly serious and introverted child.  Every spring, a yellow rose bush would bloom in our garden. After school, I would stand by the rosebush talking to the flowers that were in bloom and play-act with them like they were puppets.

I loved listening to an audio tape (yes, those relics of technology past) of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, written by Robert Louis Stevenson.  The story infused my vocabulary so much that when I was about 7 and obsessed with writing my will, I wrote at the top, ‘in the event of my death or disappearance’, which is how Jekyll starts his letter to his friend, the lawyer Gabriel John Utterson. 

Are you a very different adult?

Yes, a wildly different adult! Fun-loving and irreverent. 
Let my holiday snap from this summer taken by the sea in Kent speak for itself.  We travelled by train to Kent, near Broadstairs where Charles Dickens used to go on holiday and where he would restore his energy.
Summer 2014 Later on I rolled on the ground like a sheep and the Collie ran around me.

I am a blogger so I will nominate my own kind…

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Our Lady of Fatima saved Padre Pio from imminent death 55 years ago this month

In 1959, Padre Pio’s health went downhill and in April of that year, he became gravely ill.  He could not get out of bed, and in the following months, he fell into even worse health.  Padre Pio had a history of battling lung ailments.  As a young seminarian, not long after taking his permanent vows, he was hit with high fevers and chronic bronchitis that was feared to be TB. 

In June 1959, his doctors gathered around him, to examine him and make a prognosis. Dr Pontoni, Dr Gasbarrini, Dr Valdoni and Dr Toniolo confirmed the worst: Padre Pio only had a few months to live – he was perishing because of a malignant tumour that had enmeshed itself in his lung.  

Enter Fr Mario Mason, a Jesuit priest who was traveling around Italy, bringing a statue of Our Lady of Fatima from town to town. 

On August 5th, Fr Mason was in San Giovanni Rotondo. All night long, the local people came to pray before the statue of Our Lady, asking that Padre Pio’s tumour would miraculously disappear. The next morning at 10 am, the helicopter pilot who transported the statue of Our Lady, the driver, some missionaries and Fr Mason went to see Padre Pio in his cell. 

They found him lying in bed, perspiring heavily and wheezing. With great difficulty Padre Pio whispered, “God bless you for all the good you are doing for the Church and for Italy. Tell the people to practice all the good things that Our Lady is inspiring them to do.”

Padre Pio was carried out on a stretcher and placed in front of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima. After praying for a few minutes, he was taken back to his cell. 

Soon it was time for Fr Mason to leave – and they flew away in the helicopter. But when they were some distance away, Fr Mason had a strong impulse to turn back, he felt as though Padre Pio was calling him back and he said to the pilot, “fly over the monastery”. When they flew over Padre Pio’s cell, they remained in the air for some minutes. On hearing the whirring of the helicopter, Padre Pio prayed this prayer, “Holy Mary, when you came to Italy, you confined me to my bed with these illnesses. Now, that you are going, are you going to leave me like this?”

After uttering these words, his body shook mightily, a sight that disturbed the monks who were caring for him, who thought that he was about to die. In a matter of seconds, Padre Pio felt better. He started breathing regularly and without difficulty. His cheeks no longer had a deathly white pallor, but a normal colour had returned. He said that he was no longer in pain, but felt strong and was able to get out of bed. The doctors rushed to see him, and they examined him thoroughly. They found not a hint of the hideous cancerous growth.

Merely two days later, Padre Pio was able to offer Holy Mass again, to hear confession and to meet with pilgrims.