Monday, April 16, 2007


...Well, I suppose any high that high was too good to last, and indeed the last two days have been a slow, inexorable slide down from the height of Easter morning, and the chance to read the gospel for DS to preach on. He knows my love for it, and his invitation is, I think, his way of telling me that although he cannot see any way out for my wife and me except through suffering beyond imagination, he still holds me in some kind of esteem and affection. I doubt his easy, sorrowing acceptance will survive a Real Break between my wife and me, should one indeed be coming, but it does not make the present gift any less sweet. You take love where you find it.

Only six days left until my wife comes home, and only fourteen until she leaves for two months; if the past four days have sapped my strength, and the six ahead seem unimaginably long, how will I face the prospect of sixty, let alone the idea of an absence, no matter which side were to initiate it, that might last the rest of my life? If this is not the dark night of the soul, I shudder to think what the real thing looks like.

When I was taking Spanish in high school,
we read a poem by St. John of the Cross called "The Dark Night".
The opening lines have stuck with me ever since:

En una noche obscura

Con ansias en amores inflamada

o dichosa uentura!

sali sin ser notada

Estando ya mi casa sosegada.

I apologize to any real Spanish scholars out there, but this quick-and-dirty translation thirty-six years after the fact is really only about one word, the very last one in the original:

In a dark night,

With love inflamed by yearning---

Oh sweet adventure ---

left unnoticed,

Having already put my house in order.

What I loved about that poem was that one word: "sosegada" --- a single word that meant "put in order"; it made me love Spanish with a deep, abiding love that today finds expression only in restaurants. But then Spanish is the language, I discovered, upon looking up the unknown word for "eggplant" during a test, that actually has a WORD for "a blow given with an eggplant". How can you not love a people who have brought such things into the world?

But to have a word "to put in order"... I suppose "to tidy up" comes close, but there is something about "sosegar", perhaps because I met it at the hands of such a lover of language, that seemed beyond the mere busy-ness of cleaning, that seemed to move the meaning to a plane where cleaning your house, as Norman O. Brown once said, is really cleaning out your head. And that is where this is all going, because I look around my workroom, and it has taken me no time at all to return it to chaos -- and I seem to lack the strength to "sosegar", to take it by the neck and shake it into sense. I fall farther and farther behind the steady incoming tide of paper, and my hold on the outside world is weakened by every sheet that is added to whatever pile --- and God help me, that is even before I turn the computer on.

So I am drifting out to sea, into a sea of paper and electrons, and the last point where I could still touch bottom is already far away. Stay with me; I have no other hold but your prayers and my stammered calls for help. And the occasional knowledge that I am not alone. Sometimes it is you who send your words my way, and sometimes it is another. And I can never decide if his presence is more rebuke or comfort, because, like the night I proposed to my wife, the happiness is so intense as to be on some level indistinguishable from anguish.

As my grandfather used to say to those he loved:
Who told you it was going to be easy?

Let me close with another piece of doggerel from long ago, sent recently to someone whose touch has touched me deeply: what an odd band of brothers we are!

Sometimes I feel that we are an entire army of scarecrows, tin men, cowardly lions and Inner Girls, off on some mad quest that for reasons we cannot quite comprehend or explain, still hope will lead to happiness. We have each other, but that doesn't keep the winged monkeys away, or bring the bucket of water we need any closer to hand. And worst of all, the witch we set out to destroy bears a face that resembles nothing so much as our own. And still we plug on, to earn the gratitude of one who promises only what he cannot deliver, and in the end removes himself from sight. Well, enough. This pool of tears is going to be a real problem if I can ever get myself back down to the Right Size...

Tom John Tom

In gratitude, 15 April 97

The brotherhood of man's a distant goal;

The brotherhood of men has smaller scope.
It's common life creates the separate soul;
Those souls then gather in the greater hope.

Our families make us and we can't undo

Those bonds without some damage to our hearts;

Yet family is our destination, too;
Our separate souls will seek out counterparts.

Our yearning homeward haunts all but the dead;

And like Lot's wife we're tempted to look back

And miss the new home waiting just ahead,

The parents, brothers, sisters that we lack.

True family trees expand to root in heaven;

The dove descends to work where love is given.


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