Monday, June 15, 2015

the return of The Feeling

Or, An Open Letter to a Friend
(Because, sometimes you make something for someone, and you like it so much you want to keep it for yourself)

"Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then -the glory- so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men. [...]  If the glory can be killed, we are lost."

--East of Eden, Chapter 13, John Steinbeck

Dear [Name]

I know it is the 8th week of ordinary time. But I don't want it to be. It's not quite. We're in Pentecost week: sandwiched between the birthday of the Church and Trinity Sunday. We must acknowledge that this time is not quite ordinary. And time has been so extra-ordinary of late, we need a transition period.

Oh, we know that Corpus Cristi is arriving, because of the first communion banners that litter the parish church; the joyful, tacky red felt. Then, the Marian shrine in the back of the nave: just hordes and hordes of the most eclectic, colorful Pietas, with hints of grotesque sorrow in their plaster, Assumptions , and joyfully garish Madonnas, surrounded by bunches of silver, white and Cerulean metallic crepe paper--East Harlem's answer to Leviticus' "gold purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen."

"Gold, purple, and scarlet cloth and fine twined linen" was a favorite chant of [Name] and I in our youth. It was such a preposterous and inane antiphon in the otherwise most solemn and humorless book of the Pentateuch. And we are such mongers for the ridiculous and whimsical that we were overwhelmingly pleased to find something so mundane and human in the midst of grand divine revelation.

In a rare moment, we were on a train, and I talked about Kolkata (being on a train is not the rare part, the talking about Kolkata is). It was late at night, on the C train from Brooklyn. We were speeding through the ground in a slick and shiny subway car. We were in such a strange and manicured moment, designed to make us forget that we were on a precipice of death. The reality of death was so carefully manufactured out of the picture, thus reality was manufactured out of the picture As I told [name] and [name] about the Kolkata I missed not because of the poverty, but because of their messy, rich, sensual un-corporate culture I felt already closer to reality just thinking of it. Kolkata is closer to reality than we are and I miss it.

I have felt distinctly fuzzy lately. I miss the clarity of the university--the clarity of Notre Dame in particular. I feel as though I'd been living for those blessed four years in a star---surrounded by brilliant light, enveloped in it, consuming it, the hot light immediately revealing the shadows in my thoughts and actions, and burning away all that was not light--incinerating any particle that was not like unto itself. All that was not light was burned away so quickly that it never clouded the clarity.

And of course I took that for granted! Because I--as an adult--knew nothing else. And how blessed--unduly and unworthily blessed--I am that my coming-of-age took place in this cradle of truth; that the practice of virtue was not only encouraged, but prized, esteemed, and discussed.

I was there to cultivate clarity--I spent my days examining truth and puncturing inflated falsehoods. It was a luxury but what a necessary salvific luxury. I would be adrift without it. Now, life is different. Days drift by and drafts accumulate in my blogger writing box, and I never feel polished or complete enough to hit publish. A million different moments, sounds, words, thoughts, emotions, mistakes hurts,  Joys, victories, sorrows, and ideas fly by me each day and it's all I can do to just grab a pen or a keyboard and capture an outline of them, because I don't have room to commit them to memory nor do I have the time to transform them into polished pieces of art.

New York City is not a city suffused with the light of Truth. The Church here is so depressing, [Name]. There are so many beautiful churches: beautiful in every sense of the word: excellent, loving, Christ-like priests, beautiful liturgies, beautiful communities, beautiful physical church buildings. But they are suffering. Churches that were built by poor Irish immigrants are not longer being funded or attended by their wealthy descendants.

It breaks my heart to see the Church so poor, and stretched so thin. And also, there are so many parishes that seem to follow the sharp divisions of wealth in this city: there are the poor ones and the rich ones. The rich ones: like St. Patrick's Cathedral, have more than enough money, while the poor ones shut down. It's sad.

And I keep reading saints who responded to all the ills of the world with hope and mercy, and they shed some of their light on the darkness of my angsty bitterness.

The other evening, as [Name] and I sat in the hot June night air--it was a heavy and close evening, saved from being suffocating by the lightest of breezes--I could no longer write, or talk, or really think. Paralyzed, I stared up at the canopy of delicate, whispering leaves that shields our backyard from the harsh cityscape outside. The leaves were beautiful, outlined in the warm light of kitchen windows in the dark. I bored them with my gaze, fighting against something inside of me, the same fight I had been fighting for weeks, if not months.
The evening was exquisite, and I was dreadfully unhappy.

I have never felt deeply, troublingly unhappy, so I don't think I've ever had to admit being unhappy before. But as soon as I acknowledged: what I am right now is unhappy, suddenly, I felt a great peace. And I felt joy in the peace. I felt Joy in being this little lost woman in the middle of a large city--lost at sea, really
*see sea doodle above*
--her lone star hidden behind the blanket of city smog. How will she steer her bark without its light to orient her compass?

This is simply where I am on my journey: alone, in a cave at night. It is dark all around me. And it is absolutely vital for me to be here. There are all sorts of serpents to be rooted out, and monsters to be vanquished, that you can't do in the full light of the sun, surrounded by the strong fortresses of family. This stage of the journey, too will pass. All things pass: the light of star endures, and I set my compass by her.

One must turn all the scribbles of angst and darkness into art. And the unhappiness cannot be fetishized and wallowed in, as all Fitzgeraldian characters do: they wear their unhappiness like limp and luxurious fur coats, instead of battling it head-on, as a challenge to be overcome.

Life is still a drum-roll, and the orchestra's still tuning, and the glory that John Steinbeck writes of still awaits.

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