Never throw in the towel

Friday 23 May 2014 — Port-O-Call: Milliways — eve of the Eve of Towel Day

I must admit, dear readers, I’ve somehow missed a multi-media pop-cultural phenomenon that has been sweeping the world since 1979. It’s purported to contain the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything. These are deep thoughts. The answer, by the way, is 42. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know the question. 

I’m sure you’re on top of this, but in the unlikely event that you, too, have missed the boat — don’t panic. I will enlighten you on this esoteric subject. You never know when it will come in handy. Did you know, for example, you can power your computer with a cup of coffee?

Begin with the fictional, eccentric, electronic travel guide “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (among true aficionados, HHGTTG.) HHGTTG is science fiction. It is not only science fiction, but British science fiction. It is not only British sci-fi but also British comedy. We all know British comedy is so zany it borders on the absurd. Combine “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” with “Dr. Who” and you get the picture.

“A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” created by Douglas Adams, began as a BBC Radio 4 series. The first episode was broadcast on Mar. 8, 1978 at 10:30 p.m. Over the years, it has been adapted into books, novels, comics, a Hollywood film, stage productions, a television series, merchandising, conventions, and computer games. The characters, plots, situations, locations, and story-threads morph to fit the media of the moment. 

You know me, dear readers, I like to keep my thumb on the pulse of the digital-watch-wearing popular culture, yet I have been completely oblivious to all of this until now. It’s very embarrassing. 

As you hitchhike through the galaxy, there is one thing you must always remember to bring along — a towel. The towel is the ultimate utility tool for any well-outfitted galactic hitchhiker. You can use it to keep warm, to lie on a beach, to sleep on a bench, to sail on a raft, to disperse toxic fumes, to defend yourself against attack, or to signal an emergency. Annually, on May 25, fans of HHGTTG worldwide will sport towels. As a fad, it’s mostly harmless. One day we will all gather (though improbably) in the restaurant at the end of the universe. 

Although I enjoy the genre, I’m not what you would call a sci-fi master, as are some of my brother priests. Fathers Rich Wilson, Dan Lacroix, John Murray, Peter John Fournier, and David Deston come to mind. Nevertheless, Towel Day is this Sunday and I feel the need to somehow display a towel. There are “Official Hitch-Hikerina” towels available but the actual towel used in the 2005 Disney movie has mysteriously disappeared. Nobody knows where it came from. Nobody knows where it went. It’s the Holy Grail of sci-fi. I am not making this up.

How can I signal that I, too, am a galactic hitchhiker? The solution came to me in a dream. I will wear a maniple on Towel Day. Of course you remember the maniple. It’s a Liturgical vestment worn with and matching the chasuble. It hangs from the left arm. Priests have been wearing maniples since at least as far back as the sixth century. They were originally a kind of towel with which clergy could wipe their hands and face when necessary. At any rate, as in so many cases, the maniple developed into an elaborately embroidered, silk fringed, mini-stole for the arm. The original purpose was forgotten. In 1967, there was an official Church decree that the maniple was no longer required in the celebration of Holy Mass. Many misinterpreted this to mean maniples were forbidden. Maniples vanished from Sacristy drawers all over the world. Now, they’re back. You can obtain one from Liturgical goods stores when you purchase a new chasuble. 

So, in celebration of Towel Day, I plan to wear a maniple. Most will interpret it as a statement of my Liturgically conservative proclivities and say to themselves, “Oh no, not again!” How silly is that? These people are what we call “strags,” non-hitchhikers. But those strags in-the-know will get the point. To quote the Guide, “What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still knows where his towel is — is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

And another thing, I’m reminded of the words of St. Paul when he urges us to “put on the armor of faith.” In a certain sense, faith is like that towel. It is an essential tool on our journey through life. As we hike down this road and that, as we encounter twists and turns; problems, situations, and adversities, if we still know where our faith is, we are someone to be reckoned with. Keep the faith. Never throw in the towel. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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