The tragedy of paganism is that it must divide the attributes of divinity. Jove’s majesty and Dionysius’ wildness could not abide together in the same being in the pagan mind. And yet that is the God the Christians worship. A God who reigns in omnipotent, terrible gravity, yet who shines in riotous color through every field of wildflowers, and dare I say, every vineyard. We worship a God of riotous grandeur and majestic joy. Thus the Christian can embrace the hushed awe of the sanctuary as well as the bacchanalia exploding on every hillside in creation. Our worship need not be either anemic and cloistered or depraved, for we worship the God of awful celebration.
I’m sorry I keep bringing up the ones I’ve lost, it’s as I keep introducing you to people who have already left the room. Nonetheless I do think I should introduce you to my neighbor Joe Henry.
Joe liked being taken to baseball games. I’d lead him through the turnstile at the minor league stadium and up to the cheap seats where he’d sit and listen to the announcer. Sometimes I’d fill in the details of the game, but I don’t think he came for the action on the field. He’d just sit there smiling, turning his head from side to side and sniffing occasionally, sifting through the various layers of sensory perception to be experienced at the ballpark.
One day I closed my eyes and joined him for a while. After a few minutes I became adept at isolating different sounds, then different smells, holding them out in my minds eye and examining them before moving on to the next experience. The beer smell from the row below us was first, then the laughing talk of the beer drinkers, then the operatic baritone of the vender bringing the beer. From there I leapt away to the birds chattering at the edge of the stands, the snap and flutter of the flags that surrounded the stadium and finally to Joe right next to me.
Joe smelled like popcorn and old shirt and out-of-fashion aftershave. I could hear him sniffing, drawing twice as much information as I did with every sniffle. I opened my eyes and saw him smiling.
“Beautiful day for a ball game, eh Andy?”
“Sure is, Joe. Absolutely beautiful.”
The people we miss the most are never the ones we learn of by reputation, or who are introduced to us at parties with the phrase, “you should really meet…” The people we really miss are the ones who sneak up on us from behind, insinuate themselves into our lives and stay there like they belong.
Then one Saturday morning you wake up late and wonder why you feel like something’s not quite right with the world. If you’re lucky you pinpoint the loss somewhere in the fabric of your existence. If you’re not, you go through the day feeling as if something is out of place, something doesn’t smell right or somehow the color of the sky is all wrong. It’s the cataclysmic shift that happens when we lose one of the characters in our memories.
There is an elegant vulnerability in shoulders. The way they curve slowly down from the neck to the arms, conveying with every shift and shrug and involuntary sob-spasm what the face couldn’t quite get out. I think we take someone by the shoulders when we want to talk to them directly, or when we want to comfort them deeply, because shoulders listen too. They listen better than our ears to the silent warnings, encouragements and invitations our hands can communicate. That is why I love shoulders in general. My reasons for loving Anna’s are too intimate for discussion here. Suffice it to say that there are many.
Forgive the disjointed nature of my posts, but I think I will return to my brother today. When my older brother David came back to live with us after his stint in the army, you couldn’t tell the difference in his eyes or his smile, he was careful to keep those the same. But the way his back stayed straight up when he sat down, pulling away from the back of his chair and the way he’d stop his hand halfway from running his fingers through his hair. Those things were different.
I was so young, those are the only images that I can recall, the only warning signs that could help me to place his death within the realm of cause and effect. It was comforting once I did, at least then, though my brother’s death was just as sad, it was less terrifying.
I took Anna to a jazz concert last night. As we walked in the conversation had already begun, the drummer stuttering out his opening address, while the others cleared their throats. Before long they were all weaving tales, the pianist drawing us into his smoky back-ally barbarisms while the drummer took us on a march through all the valleys in the delta. The bassist all the while held forth on all the depth and beauty of the human race, mediating between his companions with wisdom and amiability.
Songs are the only time when humans can all speak at the same time without cacophony. What a night.
I first realized that the world was not entirely my friend thirty-four years ago today. It was during that season when I always see the world through a veil of phlegm and tears, thanks to the dogwoods around my neighborhood and their incessant need to procreate.
Through my next-door neighbor’s window I saw my mother come running out our back door, her eyes watering more than mine and an expression on her face that she could only explain to me years later. At that moment, when she burst out into our yard, she was asking my brother why he couldn’t have made it look like an accident. My brother lay in his room with a gun in his hand. There are times when we all wish his death had been more ambiguous.
My last post prompted me to consider which of the presidential candidates I would consider voting for. I’ve always thought it would be valuable to have a woman president, but (though I’m rather ashamed to say it) I’ve never actually thought of Hilary Clinton as a woman. I’m sure this is nothing more than a chauvinistic prejudice stemming from my false views of femininity and power structures, but I’m afraid Mrs. Clinton has marks against her already simply because of image.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has done magnificently in presenting a strong image of himself. I might even be persuaded to become excited about his candidacy. Due to my Irish Catholic upbringing, voting Republican is mostly out of the question, but I’ve promised myself that I will study the platforms of all the candidates in this election, since my state holds open primaries, and be open-minded about party affiliation. I may post my conclusions, however useless, but for now I think I would like to leave politics to the politicians. Those wolves may never tire of gnawing on the same old gristle, but I am done with it for now.
My father always said he was a catholic because homilies were shorter than sermons. I have a suspicion he stayed catholic because if he became a protestant he would have no one to drink with. I think my opinions on politics are formed in much the same way as my father’s religious persuasion. In other words, my politics have a lot to do with my life, and little to do with the clear light of pure reason.
I am in many ways conservative in a literal sense, because I believe that there are certain institutions, like the nuclear family, that a society must preserve with little change. I have a family, and I am convinced that it is an extremely valuable thing which should not be tampered with. I also think the United States constitution gives Americans the remarkable opportunity to compare all new laws with a more or less fixed standard. I cannot stress how important I think this truly is. No matter how flawed, the constitution anchors the tradition of American law, providing us with a dynamic discourse that nonetheless cannot stray too far with every wind of public opinion.
I am also a liberal, however, in the way the term was meant when it seemed to be synonymous with “progressive.” I think that the government can be a tool for social change that would be beyond individuals. This could be as simple as new roads, or as unbelievably complex and fraught with difficulty as poverty alleviation. Either of those things seem to me to be legitimate goals for the public sector. I came to this opinion because government grants paid my way through college, and because food stamps feed my sister-in-law’s daughter; not because I ever set aside time to sit in an ivory tower and contemplate the eternal truths of American politics.
In my last entry I was writing about my wife, comparing her to a Rembrandt before I digressed into self-deprecation. I’m afraid my metaphor was heinously inadequate, or at least I am afraid she will read it and think so. But then, can any metaphor hold all the glorious wonder of personhood that is contained in human beauty? Can words describe the process by which I came to realize the lustrous candor of her eyes after I had already fallen in love with the glory that is her breasts?
The Bible says that we humans are made in the image of God, an image that the theologians tell us is not visual, but that we should see in every man and woman we meet. I think I realized this when I realized that my wife became more beautiful when I knew I loved her. The image of God, like the image of beauty, is a thing that when understood shines upon the mind of humanity, affecting our senses in the same way prisms expose the colors in light.