Is Jesus Christ here on the waterfront?


The New York Times reports Newtown: In our view, the New York Times has done some very good work reporting from Newtown this week.

Granted, the paper has had dramatic material to work with. Yesterday, Joseph Berger reported the funeral of Anne Marie Murphy, a 52-year-old mother of four who worked as a teacher's aide at Sandy Hook Elementary School:
BERGER (12/21/12): The funeral was one of at least six for victims on Thursday. Other services were for Catherine Hubbard, Jesse Lewis, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt, all 6 years old, and Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau, a 30-year-old teacher.

Mrs. Murphy’s husband, Michael, also spoke, and, according to several mourners, remembered her as a mother for whom her children—Colleen, Kelly, Paige and Thomas—were “the four pillars of her life.” The Rev. William T. Holt, a Dominican priest at Holy Innocents Parish in nearby Pleasantville, said Mr. Murphy revealed that his wife had prepared gifts for every child in her classroom but was never able to give them.

Mrs. Murphy’s father, Dr. Hugh McGowan, a retired dentist whose office was up the road from the church, told The Hartford Courant that the authorities had informed him that his daughter’s body was found covering a group of children’s bodies, as if she were trying to shield them. Mrs. Murphy’s actions were corroborated by the family of Dylan Hockley, which released a statement saying, “Dylan had died in the loving arms of his favorite teacher.”

“We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy,” the statement said.
“Dylan loved Mrs. Murphy so much and pointed at her picture on our refrigerator every day.”
As we’ve read these descriptions this week, we’ve thought of the endless disparagements rained on American teachers in the past decade or so. If we could only get rid of these people with their infernal teachers unions! If we could only replace them with more of those great Princeton kids!

We don't mean that as a disparagement of Princeton students, including those who go into teaching. Earlier, Berger’s reporting made us think of a great fictional speech:
BERGER: It was an indication of the Newtown massacre’s impact that the officiant at the Mass of Christian Burial was Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York. Cardinal Dolan did not know the Murphy family, but Mrs. Murphy was the only one among the 26 people killed whose family church was in the archdiocese; the cardinal, an aide said, “wanted to express his solidarity.”

“I never had the honor of meeting Annie, so I’m at a disadvantage,” Cardinal Dolan told mourners. “Then again, I never had the honor of physically meeting Jesus, yet my union with him is the most important thing in my life. And because I know Jesus, I feel as if I know Anne Marie McGowan Murphy quite well.

“Like Jesus, Annie was an excellent teacher. Like him, she had a favored place in her big, tender heart for children, especially those with struggles. Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends.”
Cardinal Dolan won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But as we read this part of Berger’s report, we thought of the great speech delivered by Father Barry, the Karl Malden character in On the Waterfront.

The Malden character is also reacting to killings. As he is pelted with fruit by thugs, he raises a type of religious question: Is Jesus Christ here on the waterfront?
Father Barry, On the Waterfront: Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up.

Taking Joey Doyle's life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow—that's a crucifixion. And every time the mob puts the crusher on a good man—tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen—it's a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows has happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of Our Lord to see if He was dead.

Boys, this is my church! And if you don't think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you've got another guess coming!

Every morning when the hiring boss blows his whistle, Jesus stands alongside you in the shape-up. He sees why some of you get picked and some of you get passed over. He sees the family men worrying about getting the rent and getting food in the house for the wife and the kids. He sees you selling your souls to the mob for a day's pay.

And what does Christ think of the easy-money boys who do none of the work and take all of the gravy? And how does he feel about the fellows who wear $150 suits and diamond rings, on your union dues and your kickback money? And how does He, who spoke up without fear against every evil, feel about your silence?
Is Christ down here on the waterfront? We don’t have religious beliefs ourselves. But we thought of Father Barry’s fictional speech when we read the words of Cardinal Dolan. (To read the full speech from the film, just click here.)

According to the Hockley family, they have taken great comfort in knowing that their son was not alone when he died—in knowing that he “died in the loving arms of his favorite teacher.” All week long, reports like these have made us think of the giant silence which has met the endless disparagement of American teachers—disparagement which has often come from high-ranking establishment sources.

In his fictional speech from On the Waterfront, Father Barry challenged such silence.

In the past several decades, our team has been good at displaying such silence—most recently, to cite one example, through the giant silence with which we met the attacks on Susan Rice. We’re also quite good at going on TV to pretend that we stood and fought like tigers.

Is Jesus Christ down here on the waterfront? Truthfully, not so much.


  1. "Is Jesus Christ down here on the waterfront? Truthfully, not so much"

    Are you sure? Cause I sure heard his voice round here today.

  2. He's on the waterfront, he was with the children and teachers at Sandy Hook, he's with their families now. He's with Wayne LaPierre at home and at work. He's everywhere.

  3. In response to this and Bob S's other posts on Newtown but to all the accounts I've been reading and watching of the teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook in their devotion to their students.

    Not to take away for a millisecond from any of those at Sandy Hook -- rather, to celebrate them. I keep thinking: wouldn't every single one of my elementary school teachers (and my principal) have acted in the same way? Of my (now-grown) children's teachers (and principal and other administrators and various staff -- there are so many more now)? Of the teachers (and administrators) now at work in the elementary school a block from my home? I truly believe they would have.

    The junior/middle and high school teachers and administrators, too. But elementary teachers and principals and such are a special breed.

    The three teachers interviewed on TV: the tender, sweet-voiced and shorter woman, the tall and gentle-voiced one in the center, the older gritty-voiced one with a bit of joyful fight in her voice: who doesn't recognize each one of these women as teachers of young children in our schools? Each with her role to play, her special gifts to bring? But the first one haunts me, speaking of the children she was calming, distracting, keeping quiet, keeping alive: "They were perfect. They were perfect."

    Then there's my natal family's neighbor (well, she was until she married and moved away, until my parents died), now about 50. She has been forever a middle-school counsellor for very troubled children. "My crazies" she has always called them when she's at home, lovingly, with a glint of joy in her eye. I hope she never has to die for them (she would in a flash). I hope she will instead be able to continue to live for them, every day. Being willing to be a martyr may be a condition for living for them. Maybe that's what all this should remind us of.

  4. The tangled moral web of "On The Waterfront,"-revamped for a Criterion release next year- is almost as famous as the film itself. Pauline Keal thought the film contained greatness, but found the Malden character unforgivably corny. Listen to (still alive) Jake LaMotta do the Contender speech on the "Raging Bull" DVD and hear irony lap itself and then explode. Kazan followed up the movie with "A Face In The Crowd." A failure upon it's release, "Face" is now a a great favorite among our tribe. It shouldn't be, says J Hoberman in "Army Of Phantoms" his great recent study of fifties Hollywood. When it counted, Kazan was worse than silent. Could the Daily Howler miss that "On The Waterfront" is a union busting movie to shame "Waiting For Superman?"
    "On The Waterfront" has been a great touchstone of my life. My Dad got work on the Hoboken docks when there were more ships coming in then they could handle. It was backbreaking and scared him away from a life of manual labor. My Grandfather, something of a loon, dressed up as a cop and was a self appointed neighborhood watch in park you see in the film, overlooking the Hudson. I heard stories about how they matched shots from different streets long before I saw the film.
    Many of us, like the moonstruck hero of "Wise Blood," try to live in "The First Church Of Jesus Christ Without Any Christ." It is a hard row to hoe.

  5. The great Brando. Eva Marie Saint. Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger.
    "I could've been a contender".
    An anti-union movie for sure. But brilliant non-the-less.
    Political opinion is not revealed truth.

  6. Cardinal Dolan worms his way into the spotlight and he reminds TDH of a movie star displaying great courage and conviction?

    And the movie star's lines remind TDH of poor Susan Rice?

    Talk about the triumph of Dowdism!

  7. A fair shot, Anom. But let he who thinks beyond the realm of all pop culture cast the next stone. There is a scene in "Sweet Smell Of Success" that nailed the Clinton era 30 years ahead of the game....

  8. The Newtown massacre was predictable. It was a malnourished rural town with lots of guns and a Civil War legacy. There's more than a connection in theme. If you look in the Bible, there's a perfect parallel: Moses slaughtering the Levites. This was done by a malnourished person with lots of power and a civil war legacy.