I'm not sure what brought me to page through Dorothy Day's autobiography. (I know what you're thinking: isn't the Black Party tonight?) But for years I've been fascinated by the splits in her character: her progressive politics vs. her old-fashioned piety. Plus, her love for her cottage by the beach on Staten Island. I knew she'd written several books, but I had no idea she was a beautiful writer. Such a clear, strong voice on the page, always dedicated to accuracy, the complexities of being.
from The Long Loneliness
In Oakland (I was eight then) we lived next door to a Methodist family who had a little store with a tiny apartment in back. The entire place smelled of fresh shingles. Birdie, my neighbor, took me to Sunday school and church with her, and then I began to experience real piety, in the sense of the sweetness of faith. I believed, but I did not know in what I believed. I became disgustingly, proudly pious. I sang hymns with the family next door. I prayed on my knees beside my bed. I asked my mother why we did not pray and sing hymns and got no satisfactory answer. No one went to church but me. I was alternately lonely and smug. At the same time, I began to be afraid of God, of death, of eternity. As soon as I closed my eyes at night, the blackness of death surrounded me. I believed and yet was afraid of nothingness. What would it be like to sink into that immensity? If I fell asleep God became in my ears a great noise that became louder and louder, and approached nearer and nearer to me until I woke up sweating with fear and shrieking for my mother. I fell asleep with her hand in mine, her warm presence by my bed. If she connected my fears with my religious attitude, she never spoke of it.
Even as I write this I am wondering if I had these nightmares before the San Francisco earthquake or afterward. The very remembrance of the noise which kept getting louder and louder, and the keen fear of death, makes me think now that it might have been due only to the earthquake. And yet we left Oakland almost at once afterward, since my father's newspaper job was gone when the plant went up in flames; we were on our way to Chicago within a week to a new life in another city.