Excerpts from True Commitments

a memoir by Michael True
from "A Centripetal Force Moving Me toward Who I Am," an introduction by Michael True
I think of my life not as a journey, since that sounds too linear, but as an unfolding as I threw myself into whatever came along—new places, happenings, unexpected events, personal encounters: a centripetal force moving me toward who I am.
Acknowledging encounters and identifying points in time, I am rather unsure of their meaning. My hope is that any reader who happens along may come across experiences that resonate with one’s own.
from "Precious Characteristics,"  a foreword by Scott Schaeffer-Duffy
In many ways, Michael True possessed a greater variety of precious characteristics than anyone else we were blessed to meet. A professor of English who never treated us as intellectual inferiors, a parent who never lectured us on how to raise our four children, a benefactor who rescued us and our community countless times, a resident of Worcester’s affluent West Side yet one of few overnight visitors we had in Saint Benedict’s Catholic Worker in a Washington, DC neighborhood where few outsiders dared visit us even during the day, a person older than us by many years who treated us nonetheless as equals, a passionate voice for justice and peace, Michael True was a treasure, an invaluable ally and friend.
from "Life: 'a remarkable pilgrimage,'"  a foreword by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy
"I lived by the seat of my pants,” Michael once told me in his later years. That modest summary, as his memoir reveals, belies the rich coherence underlying his life. Unafraid to evolve, he trusted his passions and took seriously his curiosities–way leading on to way. In that, he embodied the immeasurable value of a liberal arts education with its emphasis on inquiry. He embodied, too, the animating joy and vitality of determining what you believe and trying to live by it. As Michael notes in True Commitments, life can indeed be "a remarkable pilgrimage, a frequent setting out in a leaky boat."
from the True Commitments chapter "Oklahoma, 1933"
As for being born: that happened at St. Anthony’s Hospital, Oklahoma City, on November 8, 1933, the year that unemployment hit twenty-five percent. My dad was traveling, selling auto parts, fuel pumps, gaskets, that sort of thing. My mother knew he was out of town at the time, in fact planned it that way.
“Herbert,” she said.”Now you leave me at Mama’s and go back to the road. I don’t want you around walking the floor for days—you know from the other two boys, I’ll be slow. If it’s a girl, I’ll call the highway patrol, perhaps somewhere between Woodword and Altus or wherever and tell them to stop you if they can.” Although that moment was a fixed point in time, I carried the legacy of previous travelers in my bones. . . .
Grandmother True admired Franklin Roosevelt, so when the family gathered in a circle for conversation after dinner, she strongly defended him against the criticism of her more conservative son and son-in-law in the oil business.
At eighty-three, she made the hundred-mile trip on a Southwestern Trailways Bus from Oklahoma City to Lawton, where my family lived, to attend my high school graduation. She and the local newspaper, with my picture on the front page, arrived in the bus station at the same moment. In a graduating class of eleven at St. Mary’s Catholic High School, I was valedictorian and Flora Landoll, my classmate for all twelve years, salutatorian.
from the True Commitments chapter "Minnesota, North Carolina, Indiana, 1955"
Near the end of my first year at a seminar on Gerard Manley Hopkins at the Newman Center, I met Mary Pat Delaney, a friend of several women in my graduate classes. Shortly afterward, we attended a costume party at the fraternity house and spoke several times on the phone. When I invited her to accompany me to the Eliot lecture, however, she turned me down. If she had had a bad time on the first date, she added, she would have accepted. Since she had a good time and because she had plans to enter the Convent of the Sisters of the Visitation in a month, she had to say no.
Nine months later, at the first word of her leaving the convent, I phoned her for a date, and we were out dancing at the St. Paul Hotel the following weekend. During the winter, I rode the University Avenue bus to St. Paul, then walked a mile in the bitter cold to her family home on Portland Avenue. Fortunately for me, she agreed to type the three research papers required for the MA degree. A year later, after my time in the army, we were married in St. Luke’s Church, just a block from her home.
from the True Commitments chapter "Massachusetts, 1965"
While the early years in Worcester proved strenuous for me at Assumption and with various antiwar projects, Mary Pat stayed at home with our six young children. She shepherded them to the grade school just two blocks away. She made lunches and dinners and took the kids grocery shopping, to second-hand stores, and out to lunch at Friendly’s or Newport Creamery. I give her a lot of credit in keeping the household together. Mary Pat developed friendships easily, and her friends often came by for visits. Later, she would go to lunch and dinner with her co-workers from the Worcester Public Schools child psychology department and Worcester Children’s Friend Society. She has always been a good conversationalist and comes from a long line of Irish-American storytellers.
Mary Pat loves to engage with people, and what begins as “How are you doing?” becomes a longer chat about where someone grew up and how many children they have. Mary Pat has the gift of a casual detective. She is truly interested in other people’s lives and their histories. Mary Pat welcomed so many guests, visiting poets, and writers to stay overnight on our third floor . . . .
In the summer of 1968, as we drove through Chicago on our way home from Minnesota, my family and I heard reports of demonstrations, riots, and police repression at the Democratic National Convention. Several years later, I visited the courtroom during the Chicago Eight trials involving Abbie Hoffman and David Dellinger. In Worcester, the librarian Dan Dick and I initiated a chapter of Clergy and Laity against the War in Vietnam, while Reverend Paul Henniges, a Unitarian minister, and Annabel Wolfson, a former nurse with a Mennonite background, initiated the Interfaith Center for Draft Information, co-sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, the Jewish Federation, and the Worcester County Ecumenical Council. . . .
In 1968, my family and some friends, mainly from Catholic backgrounds, initiated the Floating Parish of Worcester, a liturgical experiment of people who gathered on Sundays in homes and public parks. Initially, Catholic priests, including Father Daniel Berrigan, acted as celebrants, with Protestant and Jewish clergy fulfilling the role later on. Although the local bishop bragged outside the diocese about the lay initiative, the diocesan chancery sent spies to report on the goings on, which they referred to as “the underground church.” . . . 
As the antiwar movement gathered strength, Worcester became something of a center for protest and resistance. Students at Clark University, where I taught as a visiting professor in various departments, organized buses to Washington for demonstrations and canvassed Worcester voters door-to-door to ask their opinions about the war. Victor Reinstein, a Clark sophomore, organized an effective sit-in in April 1970 “according to strict Gandhian principles,” as he said, that involved eight undergraduates, a Clark sociology professor, and me.
from the True Commitments chapter "England and Western Europe"
From 1981 to 1983, I led workshops in writing and American literature at annual ECIS conferences, the stipend enabling me to see the sights in and around the Hague, Brussels, and Geneva. Thrilled to be touring Amsterdam, Paris, Florence, Venice, and Rome at long last, I felt like the legendary Okie who sunburned his tonsils ogling skyscrapers in Manhattan. Even the train rides between cities were exciting, particularly the one from Geneva through the Alps by Lake Como, arriving late at night in Venice and taking the vaporetto to St. Mark’s Plaza and my night’s lodging. Rome was equally thrilling no matter how often I had seen pictures or films of it. . . .
By the late seventies, my essays and reviews were appearing in Commonweal, America, New Republic, The Progressive, and other periodicals in the US and abroad. Having never attempted fiction, I ended up as a kind of pamphleteer after teaching argumentative writing for years and being seduced by writers such as Thomas Paine and Paul Goodman. Along the way, John Updike’s take on what goes into writing offered a kind of encouragement.
There’s a kind of confessional impulse that not every literate intelligent person has. A crazy belief that you have some exciting news about being alive, and I guess, that more than talent is what separates those who do it from those who think they’d like to do it.
from the True Commitments chapter "China and Korea"
Traveling in Europe and teaching at writers conferences in Minnesota and Arkansas as well as publishing a book and various essays led to an unexpected adventure. Through Zhang Ziqing, a scholar at the Foreign Language Research Institute at Nanjing University (Nanda) in 1984, I was invited by the Education Department in China to spend a year teaching American literature to graduate students and undergraduates. Somewhat to my surprise, since our children were by that time all in college, Mary Pat agreed that we should accept the offer to be there a full year. . . .
The high point of my time in North Korea was a visit with English teachers at Kim Il-sung University, who were happy to learn about American writers whom they were not allowed to cover in their classes and to accept my handouts, mainly poetry fliers. My conversations with them made me long to return to teach there, which I tried to do on my return home; but nothing came of it. Every library we visited was filled to capacity, reflecting what I had heard about the high literacy rate in the country. Although resplendent with classical Korean paintings from the past, museums were dominated by recent socialist-realist canvases and sculptures. On a massive theater stage before a large audience, an elaborate perfectly synchronized troop of dancers, acrobats, and singers entertained us for two hours. And before I left the country, guides took me on a brief tour beyond the city to the Sea of Japan.
from the True Commitments chapter "Back Home"
On campus, the peace and justice committee of interested faculty, campus ministers, and several talented, imaginative students sponsored films, workshops, and speakers, including Washington Post journalist Colman McCarthy and César Chavéz, co-founder of United Farm Workers and the most important apostle of nonviolence since Martin Luther King Jr. . . .
On temporary leave from Assumption prior to 1997, I happily accepted invitations to teach at Colorado College, Holy Cross College in Worcester, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and for a semester at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Those assignments enabled me to work with colleagues in established peace studies programs and to gain experience relevant to the program in progress at Assumption. Through those assignments and professional organizations, I became acquainted with a whole range of research on the efficacy of peacemaking, in resolving conflict in the family, schools, and wider community, though I was slow to learn essential skills and strategies essential to nonviolent communication and mediation, direct action, and nonviolent intervention.
from the True Commitments chapter "India and Latin America"
My Kolkata residence, the Ramakrishna Mission, is the main office and library of the Vedanta Society with a lush flower garden encircled by a four-story building. Outside my window on the first floor, children of various ages played along the crumbling sidewalk and metal fence amid dusty, dark green flowers. A boy about eight years old pulled a cart as three younger children, happy at play, ran behind, then piled on, pushing one another. Their thin legs and haunches spoke of deficiencies as they laughed and shouted their way along the street as a barefoot boy ran behind them. . . .
My final adventures abroad took me to South America: people of Colombia, plagued at that time by FARC rebels from the countryside, and people of Argentina, at great risk to themselves, constructed and sustained peace cultures in environments threatened by violence. And shortly after that, I lectured at the Juche Institute in Pyongyang, North Korea.
True Commitments includes remembrances from each of Michael True's six children,
Mary Laurel, Michael, John, Christopher, Anne, and Betsy, who also contributed a preface