Journey of the Custos – “The Corner That Held Them” – Chapter 10

The appointment for the convent of Oby as overhead for the terrible management of the place is Henry Yellowlees. According to Bishop Walter’s report, he is to be the Custos.

Chapter 10 follows his exploits in his first attempts to bring Oby into the black. Riding out, Yellowlees encounters a leper in a colony that sings with him “Triste Loysir,” which happens to be the name of the chapter.

They sing beautifully, the group remarking on how difficult it is to hear music from skilled musicians at all, given the difficulty to learn the trade.

When Yellowlees is on his return trip, he finds the charred remains of the leprosarium, and the bloodied esophagus of the singing leper, John, caused by bandits who choked him with a bone.

They called themselves The Apostles, these violent bandits who were pillaging the place in an attempt to perform a retribution on what they perceived to be a poorly managed facility. A majority of the funds were spent on music books, much to the benefit of the ears of the place, and to Yellowlees who, when singing the Kyrie with them, remarks that it is “paradise itself.” But to the attendees, their stomachs remained empty.

It is a lashing out that is unfortunately all too common in the modern era.

We assume that wealth is a zero sum game, and that all monies spent towards the arts takes away from that which could be spent alleviating poverty.

Never mind the logistical problem of wondering how public spending for Sesame Street could reach the sinking country of Bangladesh. As if balancing the books were so simple.

In the current state of economic affairs, a dead whale is of greater value than one that is alive.

And if the creation of “orange skies” over San Francisco is to be taken seriously (whichbit must), externalities for this method of appraising value has left us with an eerie and alien reminder that giving a cost/benefit ratio Carte blanche over our wellbeing, we destroy ourselves and the places we inhabit easily.

Unfortunately, we do not have the proper measurements of happiness and well being that are accurate.

Marilynne Robinson repeatedly mentions how Iowa created a university to study the classics and to practice writing. The Iowa Writer’s Workshop is now seen as one of, if not the best, writing colleges in the country.

In the 19th century, what use did farmers have for the Confessions of St. Augustine?

And what “use” did the lepers have for their voices to echo among the cacophonous and poorly constructed caves?

I say all these things, because the recent Social Progress Index has been released. In it, the researchers collate measurements on several aspects of well-being, whether it be opportunity, growth, education, safety, or inclusivity.

Only three nations went backwards in the years of 2011-2020: Brazil, Hungary, and the United States.

The report, combined with others of this year like the World Happiness Report in March/April, is yet another embarrassment to the country I live in.

The Apostles, as surely as they set fire to the robust arts they took for granted, is having their way with the United States. Where receiving an education in the humanities is once again considered aristocratic, where arts, music, and theater are cut from public education, despite the evidence showing the benefits to the minds of young people. Where the choice between being healthy and being solvent is not the same decision at all, and where money is so desirable as to erode sound decisionmaking at all levels.

If a 14th century convent can supply a choir, then there must be a case for the happiness of Americans to be well-rounded.

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