Contributor Interview: Gerard Webster

gwebster200x200Author Name: Gerard Webster

Contributions to Image and Likeness: “Thou,” “Nice”

Bio: Gerard D. Webster is the author of two Catholic novels, In-Sight and The Soul Reader. He is the co-founder of the first local affiliated chapter of The Catholic Writers Guild, the St. Johns Chapter, in Jacksonville, Florida. His past experience encompasses a broad background—as a Peace Corps Volunteer, a soldier, an international businessman, and an addictions counselor. Most of all, he is a husband to his wife of 45 years, a father to their five children, and a grandfather. He wrote the poem, “Thou,” many years ago to honor his wife, Anne.

About These Pieces

How did you find yourself inspired to write this/these piece(s)?  

I wrote the poem, Thou, to my wife Anne about 25 years ago. Anne started teaching again after our youngest started school. I was in night school for my Master’s degree while was also working full-time as an addictions counselor and part time driving a laboratory delivery van. We were so broke at that time that we couldn’t pay attention. Because of all the stress and pressures of our lives, I wrote the poem to Anne to reassure her of my undying love for her. I never intended to publish it. Only when submissions for Image and Likeness were being sought did I think of the poem again. I asked Anne if she would mind if I submitted it. She thought it would be a good fit. She then retrieved the original copy of the poem from where she had placed it—like a treasure—for safekeeping 25 years ago. She knew right where it was because—from time to time whenever life threw us a curve—she would pull it out and read it again.

The short story, Nice, was written specifically for Image and Likeness. About a year after my father passed away, a well-meaning relative was trying to “comfort” my mother by repeating how sad it was that she lost her husband. To which my mother responded: “Oh, don’t feel bad. That’s how every good marriage ends.” I never forgot that. When I  tried to think of a story to submit, that phrase kept coming to mind. So I wrote the story around that theme: that the death of one of the two partners is the way every good marriage should end. The irony is that the phrase, “’til death do us part,” implies both a sad end to an earthly life together and a crown of victory for a marriage so successfully concluded.

What drew you to writing about Theology of the Body in this way?

To me, there are two ways to depict the value of something: one is to show, by contrast, the ugliness of its opposite and the other is to show the beauty of the thing itself. The poem, Thou, was not written for Image and Likeness. It was written for Anne. But in trying to put into words how much she meant to me, I found a reflection on the beauty of marriage itself.  On the other hand, the short story, Nice, gave me an opportunity to contrast an outwardly successful but shallow life of fleeting relationships to a challenging but deeper married life anchored in the vow “‘til death do us part.” In the poem and the short story, I wanted to focus more on the beauty and permanence of marriage than on the distortion of it that we too often see in our modern culture.

There is a lot of nonfiction out there on TOB, but the amount of fiction and poetry on the subject is certainly on the rise.  What is it, do you think, about fiction and poetry that lend themselves to illustrating the tenets of the Theology of the Body?

I enjoyed learning about Theology of the Body through reading the many non-fiction works out there. It has certainly given me a cerebral understanding of God’s plan and logical arguments against the counterfeits proposed by secular society. But, just as the body needs a heart as well as a brain, we need to emotionally experience the beauty of TOB as well as understand its theology. Fiction and poetry speak very much to the heart.   

Some TOB stories and poems can be evangelization tools, and some can be messages of encouragement to those of us doing the evangelizing.  Which do you think yours is, and why do you think that’s valuable to its audience?

If I had to try to categorize them, I’d call them the evangelization of attraction. It’s the most natural thing in the world to be attracted to beauty and revolted by ugliness. In both the poem and the short story, I hoped to paint a scene of beauty—the beauty of the lifelong commitment of two people deeply in love and who transmit that love through the sacrament of marriage.   

If I had to describe your poem “Thou,” I’d call it an illustration of the classrooms to be found in the school of marriage.  How accurate a description is that, and what do you think or hope readers can see of themselves (or what they have learned/need to learn) in this poem?  

That’s a good description, even though I never thought of it that way. Thou was written to and for Anne—as a testament to the amazing transforming effect her love had on me. I heard a saying once that “Men don’t raise children. Children raise men.” Her steadfast love, through tough times and good, as well as the responsibility for five other souls we brought into this world, sculpted me from a rough rock of undefined shape to something closer to the image and likeness of our Maker. I hope that the readers can see something of that chiseling effect on themselves—as well as a vision for what they can become—by reading how Anne had such a powerful influence on my life and the lives of our children.

Then in “Nice,” you give us a story of a season of change common to all lasting marriages, and that is that dreaded season of discontent. What do you think the Theology of the Body teaches us about weathering such a season?

It’s very easy today to become bewitched by the flashy, successful, wealthy, popular counterfeit “loves” our culture presents as ideal. True love doesn’t always look as glamorous when it involves working a second job, changing dirty diapers, fixing a leaky sink…or hanging on a cross. But the sacrificial element is what defines true love and gives it meaning. When Anne and I were first married, we watched an episode of the TV program “Love Boat.” A couple got married by the captain on the ship at the end of the show—and their “vow” to each other was to remain married “for as long as we both shall love.” What kind of a vow is that? It means nothing. Even though it looked good on a cruise ship or on a beach at an island resort, how was it going to stand up to the rigors of daily life—dirty socks, flat tires, kids with the flu, and an old house in need of paint? TOB helps see through the ephemeral counterfeits to the real love that God has for his people—and sacramental marriage and family that is a reflection of that love.    

What’s another story or poem in this anthology that spoke to you?  What in particular in that piece reached out to you?  

Two stories were particularly memorable for me—and for very different reasons: Venus If You Do by Arthur Powers did a great job of contrasting true love and marriage to the siren call of “serial conquests.” The insertion of Greek mythology and tying a pagan goddess to the demonic domination of a man was particularly insightful.

Pear Trees by Dena Hunt stood out for its shock value. At first I questioned the language and assault at the end of the story; but then I realized that the reaction of the man in gray flannel could not have been triggered by anything less invasive. This was a daring but very effective story. It certainly stood out from the others and forced me to think my initial reaction through.

Look for discussion questions on “Thou” and “Nice” on Wednesday, October 26.

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