Thursday, December 13, 2018

open as a bell before the toll


The other week, at the small desk where I work in the midst of lawyers fussing about clients and contracts, I stumbled across one of those viral videos hiding in the dusty corners of the internet of a mother and a child. In this particular video, a baby born deaf hears her mother's voice for the first time, and I promptly burst into tears watching it. (I am re-watching it as I type this, and I am—again—crying.)

I was (and continue to be) surprised by the violence of my emotional reaction. I thought I had left baby fever behind in the dark days of the early twenties. But maybe it is simply that teaching teenagers and living with college students is both a reality check—this is who those babies truly are and will very shortly blossom into: free agents, whom you can't coddle forever—and a natural pasture where nurturing instincts can be harnessed for the good of a little flock, if not your own particular little lamb.

This is the first time, since I stepped into a detention room full of high school seniors one hot August morning, I realized, that I have not had a flock to care for or belong to. I think this was a facet of post-grad adulthood I took for granted. Shepherding has very heavily informed what I think adulthood is, and I am now realizing that young adulthood is an entirely different thing without it. It is, perhaps, important to finally feel its absence. This is an educational emptiness, if nothing better can be said for it. It is not an emptiness solved with plants or pets. Flocks are something that both require other shepherds, and rebel against you as only humans can and plants and pets (mercifully) cannot.


Along those lines, it struck me tonight that this is the first time in my life when I am not living in a community, and this probably explains some of the rattling unfulfilled-ness that has been besetting me for most of the year. For the past two years, I have shouldered the duty of delight that comes from living with 100+ undergraduate women, and while the community never replaced the obvious need for a complementary community of friends, it filled a certain place in my heart that I realized is a vital space, for me. There is a necessity for a human being to belong to something they know is good, whether or not they are entirely happy with it (they are usually not), whether they have complete control over it (they don't), or whether it mirrors perfectly their ideal community in their heads (it will never). I have now just stated a pitifully attenuated ecclesiology. It is important to live in community—something constituted of people you did not quite choose, even if you chose it. A community is something that is mutually forming, and it is formed by the people who constitute it, even as it molds them to the image of nothing other than each other. I think one very particularly qualification of a community is that it is filled with people you have no control over and who make the community frustrating, because they do not operate like you, but who make it real, because you learn to exist with these very, very different people, as you are held together by a bond that is above and beyond simply personal preference or inclination.

Perhaps this is why I have become so attracted to monasteries—if only monasteries had babies.

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