Sunday, March 30, 2014

existential angst of sublunary beings

 I adjure you, Daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.
--Song of Songs

Sometimes, during college, I have found myself in compromising situations and inexplicable positions.

Such as Saturday, when I was dancing in the holding cell of the campus police building, or that one time I once carried a table with several piles of props on it from the theatre building to a far distant quad, where we performed Oscar Wilde under the afternoon sun, with the hazy August warmth still hanging in the air and the insouciance of sophomore year running through our blood.

And then there was that time I was army crawling through the atrium of the chemistry building, clad in a hospital gown, desperately attempting to reach the door in my daring "escape" (anything for art/student films, you know).
As I looked up there, on the other side of the door, was a demure looking professor, who held in her hands a large box of files and a birthday balloon, who watched my desperate clawing at the carpet with a mixture of mild curiosity and dismay, and kindly waited until we finished the shot to enter the building.
I smiled pleasantly up at her from my cozy position on the carpet, as she walked past us and said: "Hello! So sorry to be in the way!"
My hospital gown was a bit mussed, but I tried to maintain the poise and social graces that Emily Post and my mother instilled in me.

This afternoon, I found myself again desperately crawling around in a hospital gown.
This time, however, I was in a large field far by an abandoned factory building, far from campus, located in a neighborhood that was far from savory.
The houses that we drove past to reach our field could not be seen without stirring a seed of pathos inside of your heart.
Decay is rarely a welcome sight.

The wall of one of the abandoned factory buildings was missing, one of the intact buildings behind me reeked of cannabis (we assumed a lush garden of Mary Jane was thriving behind those corrugated metal walls), and the area I was traversing was a minefield of prickers, discarded shoes, and suspect bottles.
Thinking: I wonder what my mother would say about this: I spent my afternoon learning all the many different ways to army crawl through the long grass.
(Spoiler alert: my mother would advise me to check my hair for ticks.)

As I reached my goal: a rusty chain-length fence (with surprise barbed wire at the top), I saw the well-kept grassy fields of the neighborhood park on the other side, and kitty-corner from that field, across the street, there was a beautiful brick church, rising over the squalor of its surroundings.
Its bell-tower looked like the Spanish mission churches whose pictures always accompanied the story of Junipero Serra in California, its warm brick was clean, cared-for, and its stained-glass windows refracted the golden sunlight hanging in the pre-sunset sky.
I clung to the chain-link fence, my hair being blown about by the cold breeze that had picked up, shivering in the shadows of the trees that lines the fence, my nose tickled by the strange vines that clung to the rusty links, and I stared at that church.

I felt, as I have never felt before, like that lamb that wanders off from the other ninety-nine.
And I looked towards that church, hoping that the Shepherd would leave the other ninety-nine who were safely and smartly inside the cozy brick.
Why would He, though?
If I had just been a good sheep and stayed with the rest of the flock, I would have never gotten stuck behind the vine-entrenched fence in the first place.
Curiosity and the stubborn need to strike out on my own had put me behind the fence in the first place.
So, technically, this was my own fault.
So, technically, it really was all on me to get myself out of that predicament.
My tears were nothing more than a bootless pity party.
But no matter how hard I could try to scale that fence, I would always land on the same side.
This is annoying, because as human beings, we do so love agency, and we love to watch the power that we possess within us work a tangible change upon the world, ourselves, and others.
That is why humans carve out space in mountains to make highways, it is why architects build skyscrapers, it is how the factory got there in the first place: the ingenuity of man.
The brilliance of man, the intelligence of man, the creative power of man.
And yet none of those things can get the man from one side of the chain-link fence to the other.

If the shepherd never came, I would have remained forever clinging to that rusty metal, sniffling in the cold shadow of the alien vines, staring at the warm church.
Instead, inside of me rose up a prayer, but not a dry prayer, like so many that had rolled off my tongue of late, but an actual, living, breathing prayer.
Something like fire and something like water, something that can cauterized a soul's uncleanness, and wash away with divine waters the wretchedness of our hearts.
An agency far beyond my own weak ability, with a power far deeper than any human's.
There, in the fire and the water, a path is forged.
One that could not be found without the help of the shepherd, one that never would have occurred to us on our own, a path from one side of the fence to the other.
Although mysterious and beyond our reach, it is simple. It is clear.
It parts the entangling vines as easily as the Red Sea, and we pass through, unscathed, but newly cleansed by our journey through the water, and a strength renewed by our encounter with the flame.


I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved--tell him I am sick with love.
--Song of Songs

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