If you want quiet, stay up past 10. In a rather sturdy, if creaky, old house that leaks cold air through windows and floorboards. Sometimes I think the mortar between the bricks is the cold’s secret accomplice. Because you see, after 10, anyone in their right mind (including the dogs, who are currently spooning on the dog bed under the front window) is deep down under a feather down duvet, dreaming away. Okay, the dogs don’t have a feather down duvet, but you get the point.
It’s cold. It’s been snowing for days, intermittently. Dumping down one day in wet, fat flakes. Swirling about in (can snow be?) dry, finely-constructed-almost-dust. All I can hear is the furnace kick on every so often and the steady breathing of Sophie, who knocked off about an hour ago. Lucy’s a little less settled. She still thinks there might be a chance I’ll go back down in the basement for something and forget to close the gate on the way up so she can sneak down and curl up on the crash pit for the night—the dog bed of all dog beds—but really just two sheets filled with scavenged upholstery foam and sewn up so that the boys (particularly J) can crash and roll and throw themselves about with relative, how shall we say, “safety.”
I can hardly keep my eyes open. I’m not one to prod myself into meeting the new year first thing. I don’t mind greeting her in the morning at a reasonable time. Say seven or so. But as I said, it’s quiet, and I not only long for the quiet, some days I whine for it. I hear myself complain, saying “I just need some time to myself or I’m going to lose it” (whatever “it” happens to be in that moment). Frankly, it’s annoying. Not that self-discernment isn’t helpful. But I guess it’s only helpful when it produces a change. Repentance you might say. Otherwise, I’m no better than G who won’t take “No” for an answer: “Can I have the iPad (spoken with the most perplexing Texan accent)?” No. “Can I have the iPad?” No. “Can I have the iPad?” No. “I want a lollipop.” No. “I want a lollipop.” No. “I want….”—you get the idea.
But see, I say I want the quiet, but when I’ve the chance to sit still in it, you’ll probably find me scrubbing the front of the oven. Or folding those towels that can’t sit in the laundry basket another day, “No sirreee!” (as J has been fond of saying). Now is the time for a walk. Must get those Christmas presents exchanged. Ah yes, another episode of Foyle’s War. And yikes, G’s fingernails!
Work needs to be done. It saves me every day, the work I do. But there is a time when work becomes the great escape. The tasks, and my sometimes need for—how did our friend put it?—radical order, can be addictive. The great dodge, from myself. As if I could give myself the slip.
In the (non-canonical, gnostic, and some consider heretical) Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: ”If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.” I came across that in Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. It stunned me. Very Desert Fathers, stick-it-to-the-core sort of thing. Which is to say, it feels True.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but every time I go to confession an explicit resolve is necessary. Would that I examined myself at the end of each day in that sort of way; but I don’t. I think doing so might make a real difference, if only to frankly recognize how many times I failed to love, to be kind and merciful, to be my brother’s keeper and not the one who judges him. As I sit here considering this day, my behavior at several moments throughout is cringeworthy. But what grieves me the most is my impotence. Not only my powerlessness to control my anger or attend to my thoughts, but the (great) number of times I didn’t even think to turn. To beg mercy. To say “help.” God. Help. Me.
But all this talk of failure isn’t all that helpful, is it? In her book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren Winner writes,
It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail. As the ethicist Samuel Wells has written, some stories feature heroes and some stories feature saints and the difference between them matters: “Stories…told with…heroes at the centre of them…are told to laud the virtues of the heroes—for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.” I am not a saint. I am, however, beginning to learn that I am a small character in a story that is always fundamentally about God.
Beyond the sin (and thank God there’s a beyond, always beyond), is the love of God. Don’t ask me to say what that means, except I sense it in the stillness. And in the stillness I’m a little terrified. Okay, maybe a lot. As Ryan Netzley frames it (lifted this from Winner’s Still as well): “Loving God, it turns out, is hard precisely because it does not promise the reassuring logic of accomplishment and failure” (Reading, Desire, and the Eucharist in Early Modern Religious Poetry). Taking failure not-quite-so-seriously might just be—if I were one to make resolutions, which I’m not—my resolution for this 2013.
2013. There’s something of the space-odyssey in the sound of that number, or rather, space cowboy. And look there, we’re forty minutes in, my eyes are still open, and I’ve once again managed to escape the stillness under the guise of sending these words out into the great nether-reaches of the world wide web.
Happy New Year! Happy Merry! (as Gabriel has taken to saying). Many Years! I raise a glass to failure, and stories, to saints and heroes and getting what’s within you out into the light of (even a winter grey Ohio) day.
[Click HERE for a greeting from J, G and I.]