Would if I could have visited Flannery O’Connor at Andalusia. I’d like to meet her peacocks or sit on the porch and receive visitors in the afternoon. Of course, I’d probably never do it, shy as I am in that way, fearing social presumption as I do.
But I am thinking about Flannery today, as it is not only the Feast of the Annunciation but also her birthday—one of the happiest coincidences of the universe I know. Annunciation comes from the Latin annuntiare, from ad- “to” + nuntiare “declare, announce” (from nuntius “messenger”). O’Connor’s stories, novels, and especially letters are a terrific incorporation of slowness, courtesy, drollness, intensity, fierceness, honesty and devotion. Sally Fitzgerald writes in the Introduction to The Habit of Being: “There she [O’Connor] stands, a phoenix risen from her own words…honest in a way that restores honor to the word.”
It’s her humor I admire most. Here are just two short excerpts from her letters. Blessed Feast of the Annunciation. Happy Birthday Mary Flannery. And blessed name day Gabriel Keats (tomorrow is his name day).
I don’t want to be any angel but my relations with them have improved over a period of time. They weren’t alway even speakable. I went to the Sisters to school for the first 6 years or so…at their hands I developed something the Freudians have not named—anti-angel aggression, call it. From 8 to 10 years it was my habit to seclude myself in a locked room every so often and with a fierce (and evil) face, whirl around in a circle with my fists knotted, socking the angel. This was the guardian angel with which the Sisters assured us we were all equipped. He never left you. My dislike of him was poisonous. I’m sure I even kicked at him and landed on the floor. You couldn’t hurt an angel but I would have been happy to know I had dirtied his feathers—I conceived of him in feathers. Anyway, the Lord removed this fixation from me by His Merciful Kindness and I have not been troubled by it since. —in a letter to “A.”
…I hate like sin to have my picture taken and most of them don’t look much like me, or maybe they’ll look like I’ll look after I’ve been dead a couple of days. —in a letter to Janet McKane
It’s a very pompous phrase—the accurate naming of the things of God—I’ll grant you. Suitable for a Thomist with that ox-like look…I don’t mean it’s an accomplishment. It’s only trying to see straight and it’s the least you can set yourself to do, the least you can ask for. You ask God to let you see straight and write straight…This is something I don’t fail to practice, although not with the right motives. —in a letter to “A.”