fondling francis' midsection
I loathe student presentations. They aren't quite on par with group projects, but I detest them nonetheless. Thus, you can imagine my reaction when Prof. Guider, whom we affectionately called Meg, announced that our final assignment would require us to explain how a particular work of art was influenced by the Franciscan tradition. "Great Meg," I cynically mused, "why offer us another insightful lecture on the incarnational theology of Bonaventure when we can endure a few poorly-prepared presentations by students don't have the least idea what they are talking about. That's well-worth my hard-earned tuition dollar!"
Like every other student, I put the project out of mind until the last week of the course. It was only then that I decided to talk about how the life of Francis was refracted through Rich Mullins' well-scored but poorly executed Canticle of the Plain. As I walked into the stone chapel with the CD and the ubiquitous Giotto reproduction in hand, I felt the queasy feeling that always accompanies a distinct lack of preparation. Meg gave us a few minutes to walk around and take a closer look at everyone else's Giotto reproduction as well as the calligraphy marred poems and cheaply produced icons that that were going to be discussed before settling down into a circle of chairs in the center of the chapel.
As soon as I sat down my anxiety level began to rise. After the odd exploit that is kindergarten show-and-tell I have always been more than willing to let someone else endure the penetrating questions and sharp critique that rains down upon the opening presenters. I always try to find a plush time slot in the middle period of the class, when fellow students are both thoroughly bored and not yet ready to launch the terse, antagonistic questions that come near the end of the period. Usually when the professor asks for volunteers in these situations, it's quite difficult to find the first victim. Fortunately, this day was different, for our class included Daniel.
Daniel was a friendly autistic student who always found his way into the center of attention. His questions and statements always included at least one word that was emphasized by an acute inflection (i.e., 'when did francis walk naKED before the bishop?'). And when he raised his hand, you never knew what you were going to get. He could go from questions about "ontological founDATION for Fransiscan natural theology" that belied a considerable amount of insight, to questions that were patently absurd, such as when he asked Meg "Did Francis smELL funny?," without any warning. In addition to his erratic reflections, you never knew whether Daniel was being totally sincere. His autism led you to believe that the absurd, and often sexual, questions were sincere, but the gleam in his eye always left you wondering.
Though I should have expected it, I was surprised when Daniel responded to Meg's question by waving his hand in the air as vigorously as a first grader who wanted to be 'line leader' would. "I'll go firST" he told Meg. My response was a mix of relief and expectation. As per usual, Daniel did not fail to upset the latter.
He began by holding up a little kodak photobook that had been half-heartedly covered with a piece of notebook paper. Scribbled all over the notebook paper were the 'tau' crosses that are used by Franciscans as well as 'sco' which was Francis' nickname. "For my creative proJECT" he intoned, "I created a photo album of my trip to the St. Francis prayer garDEN at the old north chURCH." "When I entered the prayer garden," he said matter of factly, "I realized that FranCIS was quite short. Moreover, he was regular size. He wasn't fat like most Americans, nor skinny like most concenTRATION camp survivors." The last phrase elicited subtle, but noticeable reactions from people throughout the room. The Jesuit priest across from me quickly inhaled, the beautiful Muslim girl who sat next to me giggled and my eyes began to well up with tears. "As I got closer to the statue," he continued, "I realized that there were two pigeons on the nearby rooftop of the Old North ChURCH. This made me feel like FranCIS and Clare were right there with me, in the garden of the old North ChURCH. As I walked closer to FranCIS I realized that many of the tourists were looking like me like I was crAZY. I felt just like FranCIS did before his father and the bishop of Assisi." At the mention of the word "crAZY" several eyes darted around, as if the reaction on other students faces would confirm that this experience was real. However, our attention did not lapse for long, as Daniel quickly continued his story. "After sitting on the bench that is opposite of FranCIS, I went over to the statute itSELF. When I got there I looked deep in FranCIS' eyes while I fondled his midSECTION." At the word fondle, the beautiful Muslim and I began to laugh uncontrollably. She was doubled over, hiding her face in her hands, and I was trying to control the volume of my laughter while tears rolled down my eyes. Surprisingly, the rest of the class was more effective in maintaining their composure, leading me to wonder whether the reason the Muslim girl and I couldn't control ourselves was because we had missed far too many off color jokes that were muttered in the midst of early-morning Mass. At that point, Daniel concluded and said that we could take a closer look at the pictures "if we liKED." No one signaled a desire for the photos to be passed. Obviously, there was no physical picture that could be quite as striking as our mental picture of Daniel fondling FranCIS
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