Wednesday, May 7, 2014

water will flow through wool

There was laughing in the night, sugar in the shade 
there were backstab handshakes made on faith 
we were never out of time and we never entertained 
anybody said out of habit that the wind was going to change
--Grace for Saints and Ramblers, Iron and Wine

I turned in my last final yesterday.
My essay on Gaudium et Spes very dramatically (and appropriately) ended with a small excerpt of this stanza from G.K. Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse:

 The gates of heaven are lightly locked, 
We do not guard our gold, 
Men may uproot where worlds begin, 
Or read the name of the nameless sin; 
But if he fail or if he win 
To no good man is told.
The men of the East may spell the stars, 
And times and triumphs mark, 
But the men signed of the cross of Christ 
Go gaily in the dark.

Embarrassingly, my eyes welled with tears as I finished the last letters on the pages of that Blue Book, and I stabbed the paper with one final period. I shook out my cramped hand and I turned in the papers to my professor.
I picked up my frantically composed essay on Newman, and read the beautifully legato and indecipherable calligraphy on the back page. My eyes welled up with even more tears, as I read the words: "this is the last [essay] I shall receive from you," and I felt very sad, which was unexpected.

I walked out into the fresh sunlight of the warmest and sunniest Tuesday of the semester, and I thought of Dorothy Day's words about her senior year of college: "the last year at University was idyllic." And as I thought of all the adventures of not even the past year, but simply the past semester, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed that so much life can be fit into just a few short months.
Grouping the year into semesters is a strange and altogether unnatural practice. I feel as though that sunny Tuesday when I ended my finals had very little in common with the cold February Tuesdays I usually spent running between the glistening golden dome of Main Building, its occupants in their polished casual business-wear, to the performing arts center, its occupants usually in a frantic tizzy, wearing something between yesterday's clothes and their new outfit for the big audition.
These Tuesdays had nothing in common with the sweet sadness of finishing the last final, and then the hazy lethargic glow of sunshine and wine that set in afterwards.
Lunch in the sunlit Mark, wine on God quad, under the sweet gaze of the newly restored Sacred Heart statue. I think the fact that it's restored has a placebo effect of sorts. Because, after it disappeared and then made its triumphant return one Tuesday in February, I noticed, more often than I did before, how beautiful it was. I will catch myself looking up at the chiseled face, sure for a moment that I saw something new, something different in the stone statue.
When I stare in His face, however, I notice that nothing is different. It all looks the same. But I suppose I just never took the time to notice it before. If He had not left, maybe I would never have noticed the shape of His forehead, or truly noticed how His robes fall right into the crown of thorns.
Isn't that funny?

Frequently, I am tempted to look down upon people who feel sad about endings. Endings are a part of life, I think, and I can think of countless endings that I have made it through with my heart and my tear ducts intact. Endings are bittersweet. I know it's a raw deal, but that's just life, highness, so deal with it.
As this semester began, I certainly did not think that the bitterness of bittersweet would be quite so bitter. And I felt dreadfully sentimental tearing up as I turned in my last (hopefully my last. Let's be honest here) Blue Book, filled with several pages of chicken scratch that strives towards profundity, but is usually inhibited in its striving by the lack of coffee, the lack of academic discipline on the part of its author, and the clock ticking in the back of the classroom.
When I handed in my test to the professor, I wondered how he could possibly bear to read these tests. I wondered if it would be as if I was forced to read Dick and Jane for hours, and then offer them a grade.
I wondered how we could dare pray to someone who invented thought itself.
The hubris of human beings is pretty unfathomable.
In moderation, I think, it is what makes us quite lovable.

So I indulged in drinking excellent Bordeaux (thank you, papa), and indulging my melancholy while sophomorically sighing: It's so sad to be human.
But it is sad to be human.
Endings are those times when we come very much face-to-face with the reality that we are not eternal. They are the most earthy times of our humanity.
But if there were no endings I very much doubt that we would ever experience joy.
Because joy is the happiness deeper than contentment. Joy is the happiness past loss, the sort of gladness you find beyond sadness.
Joy is the delight that catches you by surprise, when you were so comfortable and settled in your melancholy.
It grabs your attention, as you think: well, this is something new.
But you find it is not new; it is quite old.
You just never saw it there before.

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