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Now I Know

22 October 2008

I have puzzled again and again over my leisurely walk through Albuquerque Academy the other day, wondering what it might have meant to loll around the burnt-lemon elms and the shade-dappled fescue and to nail myself for 80 minutes to the cold concrete of the stadium bench watching strangers’ men-children kick a ball around the same pitch I had prowled some 27 years before.  I wondered what it was about the brick archways at the drop-off circle that made me want to linger there, reliving and replaying those paper-football games on those smooth, stone benches who are now mere, but weighty, apparitions.

Why my stomach would lunge for my throat, dragging my heart with it, and then threatening to twist the spigots that never quite opened but kept me guessing when, and hoping, they finally would.

Why I spent six years – between a half and a third of my life at that point – going to school, toiling there, and leaving at the end of the day, never pausing to appreciate how beautiful it all was, and now, there I was, luxuriating in it and yet having no home there, no family there, no friends there.


Barbara Brown Taylor rescued me this evening as she reflected on how leaving the pastorate freed her to immerse herself in the Sabbath:

If you decide to live on the fire that God has kindled inside of you instead of rushing out to find some sticks to rub together, then it does not take long for all sorts of feelings to come out of hiding.  You can find yourself crying buckets of uncried tears over things you thought you had handled years ago.  People you have loved and lost can show up with their ghostly lawn chairs, announcing they have nowhere else they have to be all day.  While you are talking with them, you may gradually become aware of an aching leg and look down to see a bruise on your thigh that you did not know you had.  How many other collisions did you ignore in your rush from here to there?

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church:  A Memoir of Faith (New York:  HarperOne, 2006), 140.


Every few moments while I strolled through the campus the other day, I marveled, mistily, at how profoundly life goes on without me.  In fact, it knows nothing of me and cares not to.  It has objectives to meet, material to cover, justice to seek, paradigms to question, futures to shape.  Scientia ad faciendum.

I don’t like that.  What happened to all of the hours I spent in those hallowed halls learning to be who I am?  Do they exist only in my own memory?


I’m tempted to think that prep schools like the Academy are abstractions and contrivances, little utopias insulated by grass and wrought iron and privilege from the gritty world of police reports and garbage collection and beaten wives.  They sometimes seem to incubate a kind of detached posterity that dreams big dreams, and sometimes reaches them, all the while peering down its nose at what it means to be an ordinary individual.  At the Academy, nobody is ordinary; everyone is destined for Cannes or Cambridge or Burning Man or Broadway or Langley or Disney’s next fantasy world, where we hire people to change our air-conditioning filters and feed our pets while we’re off somewhere being important.

But there they were the other day, bright but ordinary kids playing table tennis between Faulkner and Sophocles, seniors playing their last match on their home pitch, kissing their moms or their stepmoms, who left their new Ayn Rand in the stands to enjoy a brief moment of photographic glory, girls texting each other and cheering their warrior-hunks on.  (To good effect:  Academy Chargers 5, Del Norte Knights 0.)

It was beautiful, surreal, deeply real, and all too brief.


Maybe Sabbath is God’s way of reminding us that longing for is living.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 October 2008 9:29 am


    In light of your reflections, I quote without comment these lines from Elliot’s “Four Quartets”:

    There are three conditions which often look alike
    Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
    Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
    From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
    Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
    Being between two lives—unflowering, between
    The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
    For liberation—not less of love but expanding
    Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
    From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
    Begins as attachment to our own field of action
    And comes to find that action of little importance
    Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
    History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
    The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
    To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

    Sin is Behovely, but
    All shall be well, and
    All manner of thing shall be well.
    If I think, again, of this place,
    And of people, not wholly commendable,
    Of no immediate kin or kindness,
    But of some peculiar genius,
    All touched by a common genius,
    United in the strife which divided them;
    If I think of a king at nightfall,
    Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
    And a few who died forgotten
    In other places, here and abroad,
    And of one who died blind and quiet
    Why should we celebrate
    These dead men more than the dying?
    It is not to ring the bell backward
    Nor is it an incantation
    To summon the spectre of a Rose.
    We cannot revive old factions
    We cannot restore old policies
    Or follow an antique drum.
    These men, and those who opposed them
    And those whom they opposed
    Accept the constitution of silence
    And are folded in a single party.
    Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
    We have taken from the defeated
    What they had to leave us—a symbol:
    A symbol perfected in death.
    And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well
    By the purification of the motive
    In the ground of our beseeching.

    The url is on a previous post.



  2. 24 October 2008 2:08 pm


    These lines farther on are even clearer:

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.


  3. queueball permalink*
    24 October 2008 4:46 pm


    Barbara Brown Taylor’s prose in _Leaving Church_ touches on many of the same themes, including the unitedness of two Christians (her, and any one of her erstwhile parishioners in north Georgia) who stridently oppose one another, perhaps rudely; they, like the two mule deer bucks we saw the other day, are united in a strangely human and beautiful way by their conflict.

    Again: marvelous. And thanks.


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