My Dear Patient Readers,
I’ve finally got him off – Scottie has betaken himself to the south for two months and suddenly I’ve got time on my hands. Time that could be well spent in many ways, of course. I need to scour my appartment in preparation for the house blessing I haven’t signed up for yet, and Scottie wants me to write him a letter every day. And then there are all those improving things I meant to do like take a night course, read some of these books, finish potty-training Johnny…well maybe I don’t have as much time on my hands as I thought, but at least nothing is urgent. Everything for the last few weeks has been urgent. It is stressful. (Scottie left on Friday and I’ve already lost five pounds.) I’m back to keeping up on my dishes, which had fallen off a bit, and now my laundry is under control, too. Which reminds, me today was going to be laundry day.
This concept of having time on one’s hands is turning out to be rather an illusion. Still, if I can’t sit down and talk to you all for a few minutes what’s the point in being all grown up?
I believe it is customary when beginning the sort of chatty letter this is meant to be, to describe the view from one’s window or balcony, whichever happens to be in sight. As it happens I have in view a balcony on the other side of a window, which works out nicely. The view is foggy: I suppose the snow is melting. I know it is snow because the bottom third of the window is blocked in white. Through the fog I descry what might, when night has fallen and assuming a few streetlights have burnt out, be mistaken for terraces and lattices but which are actually a series of carports and that old chicken wire Scottie put up on the balcony last summer to keep Johnny from falling off. (I never let Johnny on the balcony regardless. I have great faith in his ability to fall from things chicken wire or none.)
How different from the winter scenes to which I am accustomed. Even last year I looked out on a pleasant neighborhood, and every winter before that from the time I was six, it was the sight of uncounted ice-silvered trees stretching upward from the undulating landscape of the Kettle Moraine that I gazed on as I wrote in my journal of a morning. When landscapes such as that are present, even to the mind, phrases like “of a morning” come naturally. Here it sounds pretentious.
My heart is heavy as I think about the implications of this change, which might very well be permanant. It is coming to me that we cannot hope to work toward the building of the Church in any way but to dedicate ourselves to the health of some individual parish. And we begin to think of staying here, trying to strike down roots through the sooty blacktop and occasional fancy-pants manicured lawn, and help rebuild this parish in which we now find ourselves. Financially this is the best situation we’ve ever been in. This state has a dreadful economy yet we seem to have it by the tail with plenty of room for advancement. As a piano teacher I work for honest and savvy employers in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the nation, providing a service that every parent there wants for their child. As a landscaper Scottie provides a service that is indespensable so close to the lake, and as the son of the business owner, he has a chance to become a landscape architect and invest in the business. And then there’s his other job, which is probably one of the most secure to be had, assuming our new President is not a complete lunatic.
And this church presents the ideal situation for us, both to continue our growth in Orthodox Christianity, and to put to use the learning and talents and interest we have in rebuilding it. Nothing has ever seemed so right. It’s quite painful.
Well, this is not a case for pity. As I write about the circumstances in which I am caught I often feel that I am a person outside the pain, turning a curiosity over in my hand and wondering about the nature of it. Suffering is truly a mystery to me. I especially do not understand those who must suffer physically. Is it really true, I wonder, that they must suffer the destruction of their bodies in order to learn compassion and love? Thus the stories of Flannery O Connor are detestable to me: she sounds like someone who is constantly talking (in the stark modern language of her time to be sure, but with a veiled Victorian smirk) about the sort of gross violent spankings that fundamentalists inflict on their children for their own good – excercises which are little more than an occasion for satisfying the darker passions of parents upon their helpless children’s terror and humiliation, all in the name of God.
When I stub my toe I am lost in bewilderment.
Yet my patron saint, Elianus, froze to death naked on a lake.
While wondering about this on my bed, it was shown to me that I myself learn compassion and love through suffering, not physically, but suffering shame for my own sins and failures. I fail a lot. I’m conscious of failure every moment and I believe the people around me also see my faults and transgressions. Certainly the demons do not allow any failing to escape their notice. And though I experience a sort of visceral fellow-anguish for the bodily pain of other people, it is for their sinfulness that I truly pity them. I know the net in which they are caught and I am tumbling around in it with them. It is completely believable to me (now) that God could not be good without seeking to save this wretched race.
Ha Ha! upon thee, despair. Despite the fact that this is my first blacktop winter in twenty years, it’s also the first winter in which I’m not depressed for as long as I remember. Yes, even surrounded by my beloved Kettle Moraine, I lifted my eyes to heaven winter after winter and was appalled by the density of the colorless dome above me. If I dared to venture from behind the protecting glass and confront those lovely icescapes in person, I felt the life being leached from my bones, never mind how warmly dressed, and was terrified at the slipping away of my my tenuous pretence at being.
When we were baptized, our godparents and our priest and others gave us gifts. We recieved baptismal crosses which Scottie and I wear always around our necks. We were given two icons and a little money and some cards and a dinner and some toys for Johnny. After a few weeks it became clear that it was not only our fellow-parishioners who had given us gifts upon our baptism.
He ascended on high and gave gifts to men.
Of course any Christian will know that when God gives spiritual gifts, he gives them for the building of his body. So here we are in this parish – the parish in which we were baptized and annointed with the Holy Spirit, the parish in which we were given the gifts which are already fitting us so neatly into the little group of people struggling to rebuild their parish after long years of mistakes and trouble and misfortune.
I don’t know but it would be unsurprising to me if we stayed here for a very long time.
At some point I suppose we shall have to buy a house and manicure our lawn. If so, it would be good if Scottie were prepared to do the work himself. Maybe later if I have time I’ll go and look around the area for night classes in landscape architecture.
Dear readers, what do you think? Why do people suffer pain, of any kind? Do you really believe that the slightest experience of a person’s life is ordered and allowed by God? Or are we to look at Providence more as an ordering of the general direction of life, with always the possibility of random sparks being thrown off by the grinding of the mishapen gears of fallen human nature?
My thanks for your time. Godspeed.