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From the Vault of Art Shay: Faith

By Art Shay in News on Dec 21, 2011 8:40PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. In this week's look at his photography archives, Art uses the Holiday season to look at faith in the hereafter.)

This, by chance, is the time of Jesus and such wiseacres as Tim Tebow and Studs Terkel. Ventriloquizing for his Dad on the streets of the Holy Land, Jesus—long before Saturday Night Live resurrected Him for a humorous pass at Kneeling Tim‐divined the futile efforts of sinners to get into Heaven.

"Depart from me," scolded the Old Man, "all ye workers of iniquity." Then He rubs it in: "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out."

(All this while our Congress of Fools fools around with our future on the pretext of a holiday from our winter of discontent.)

As Studs Terkel used to say, and for all I know still resonates, "It's all connected." The now-failing nonagenarian Rev. Billy Graham once told me, "I love to see football players kneel and thank the Lord for successful Hail Mary passes." I think he meant it helped the Faith.

At the time, in his room at the Hilton, in front of a hotel promo picture of a babe, he was doing arm exercises with ten pound weights he carried in his luggage. I'm sure he believed in that old religious aphorism: "Pray to God- but keep swimming for the shore. "

On the book page, sneaking up the list of factual books, is a pleasant "account" of a sick three-year-old meeting Jesus, Heaven is for Real. (Soon, no doubt, to be a movie.)

As Franz Werfel perorated in Song of Bernadette (the book and the movie): "To those who believe no proof is necessary. To those who don't believe, no proof is possible."

Did these wise and peaceful words dispel the Miracle of Bernadette's Lady? No, sirree. It extolled, propitiated and drew new crowds of incurables to Lourdes, to this day.

I'm reminded of a great New Yorker cartoon: An African witch doctor is directing a troupe of spear-carrying dancers as they dance around a sick man in a circle demarcated by a riband of rocks. The witch-doctor is soothing the sick guy's wife: "We're doing everything we can for him."

I reflect on the clipping I've made from New York magazine. A marvelous picture by Christopher Lane (reflecting all his candles in his eyeglasses, mouth open blowing out the forest fire on his cake) shows Irving Kahn, 106, who still nominally manages a successful $700 million fund with his feisty wife and two kids—the fruit of a 90-year marriage.

The article tells of the amazing DNA of several hundred long-lived Ashkenazim. All of them having missed "the big four: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and cognitive decline." All bright as 5-feet, 2-inch Irv Kahn's candles. Shortness seems to be a factor in living long!

I also think of my hero, Christopher Hitchens: atheist; smoker; drinker; party boy. Dead, alas, at 62, of esophageal cancer in Houston. The clip stands out amongst obits of NFL and NBA veterans dead at 54, 58, 66 and so on, despite lives spent trying to stay in shape while being pummeled by other towering athletes .

Drawing on another Studs connection: I contributed photographs to a Life magazine story on the last Union Civil War survivor, Albert Woolson, at 108, a year before he died. We had in common that we had both been buglers at 14. I became the bugle champ of the East Bronx but Albert had the pleasure of bugling Mess Call for President Lincoln's ears—and filling his belly with fried possum—at a New Jersey encampment at Fort Dix in 1862.

Coming home from WWII, I developed a skin rash from an early batch of penicillin and was cured in a mere 10 days at the Ft. Dix hospital. I wouldn't meet fellow Bugler Woolson for a few years, and I haven't shot Tim Tebow or Irv Kahn, Chris Hitchens, or anyone in the Congress of Fools governing us, but somehow, my DNA permitting, I feel it's all connected.

If you can't wait until this time every Wednesday to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago’s Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.