Saturday, August 9, 2014

infantile purgations


"I feel quite happy, as if happiness/Did not consist in getting what one wanted,/Or in getting rid of what can't be got rid of/But in a different vision"
--T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion


The other day at Mass, a baby wasn't crying. He was shrieking. He was screaming with every single breath inside of his miniature infantile lungs. His scream was not a lusty contralto belt but a woeful falsetto trill, laced with all the sorrow that one can accrue in seven and a half months of living.
Even from the back foyer, his piercing cries broke all our eardrums, our will to stay conscious, and our ability to stay attentive.
There was no point in trying to concentrate on anything other than the pain that this poor child must have been feeling, and was inviting us to enter into his sorrow by inflicting a similar pain on our eardrums.
Bravely, the priest soldiered on, and continued speaking in an excellently articulate and composed voice.
I couldn't help but feel that crying babies in the midst of an excellently composed homily must be the cross that clerics must bear for us.
I imagine that it would be on the day when inspiration had finally struck that the delivery of such inspired words would be inescapably marred by the wailing of an infant.
If I had been in that priest's place, I would be so many variations of annoyed and frustrated, put-out and irked, which is generally my response to the slings and arrows of life, (particularly as manifest through a baby's cry). Annoyance.
But, there isn't any part of the human experience that allows you to escape annoyances. There isn't a rule in the universe that says: Oh, your car is breaking down? Well, then I suppose that we'll make sure your sink doesn't clog until next week. That's just not how life works. We have many cliché sayings that reflect this truth: "If it's not one thing, it's another," "Troubles come in threes," "No rest for the weary," "It never rains but it storms."

But I think part of the problem is that we are constructions projects, in the middle of being constructed.
And if you've ever watch a building or a bridge or a small piece of interstate highway being put together, it looks like a mess for 95% of the process.
It looks like much more of a mess than whatever was there before.
And the mess of the construction seems to be an endless process, a blight on the landscape and nothing more.
We understand, from our privileged viewpoint outside of the construction process, that there is a slow and steady order to the disaster.
We know that there is going to be something much better on the other side of this mess.
Unfortunately, the bridge itself does not have the advantage of understanding any of this. And to him this whole construction project just seems like an awful lot of bother.
The key to understanding, just like the key to aging gracefully or learning how to be a friend, is perspective.
For example: I never knew that there was such grace in a fall of a leaf.
I watched one fall, tumbling out of the tree in front of me.
And I doubt that the leaf itself could understand the graceful patterns that it made as it fell.
I'm sure, to the leaf it was simply troubling and confusing, being rolled around in aerial somersaults by geriatric air currents in the morning humidity.
But it was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen: watching this small little disc of green float and tumble delicately to the lush grass beneath its tree.
And so our lives must look to those who have the privilege of perspective.
And we, at certain graced moments in our lives, can find ourselves viewing the panorama of our lives from that unique vantage-point.
 What we see is altogether baffling in its beauty.

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