My niece, Stephanie, is only eighteen but so far in her short driving life she has wrecked eight cars. (Not all were her fault.) Her father, who has the patience of St. Francis but is a lot funnier, beat us to the purchase of a new car. He’d never owned a new one either. His little red whatever it is, is just sweet, the way it handles, the way it looks. How I know is my sister let me drive it last summer. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say Larry was hesitant to loan it to Stephanie. On the first occasion he let her drive it, she returned it with a deep scratch which ran from the front turn signal to the rear on the driver’s side. My brother-in-law wondered what she was doing or where she was looking to have not stopped three-quarters of the way through this etching.
Stephanie’s honesty deserves admiration because she arrived home and went directly to her father. He was so dismayed he dismissed her from his presence with orders not to speak to him for awhile. She waited thinking she might even be willing to give up her cell phone for hurting his precious. When he came out he told her it was okay, a daughter was more important than a new car. I think that proves what I was saying about him. He’s a saint.
I’ve been shrill about being way beyond the reach of American auto makers, but they found my idolatrous crack. I discovered a new way to be flawed. Now I wonder if Jesus was tempted in all ways like us – but without sin, of course – would he sit in the seat of a new car and savor the peculiar smell that tells you no one’s owned this vehicle before? Would he be tempted to love the CD controls on the steering wheel? What I don’t like about our old car is now unrestrained: humid weather makes it smell like dog breath and my shotgun seat looks like a moon crater.
We’ve been saving for a newer used car and yesterday we received a surprise gift from someone who loves us and worries about our safety when we drive long distances across the country in a car that has 180,000 miles on it. Her check fell out of the envelope and stunned us.
The amazing gift came with the request that we add it to what we’d saved and buy a new car.
Denis spent two days looking at new cars. I’m not going to a car lot unless there’s a serious candidate. It’s painful to spend so much time trying to make a decision and then negotiating with a salesperson who wants to know about your grandchildren. The cost of any low-end vehicle represents about half our annual income, and one option we DON’T need is a puddle light. Can you believe $850 extra buys you floodlights so you don’t step in a puddle on your way to the car in the dark? Is there some designer I can personally cudgel? But I fall hard for the seat warmer. Forget the 27 airbags and repair records. On a cold day in Minnesota I want the dial set on broil and my rear tenderly baked and supported any time I choose.
Today we bought it – a 2007 Pearl Blue Ford. I like the color and it has seat warmers. I’m trying not to, like, love it. At night I stare at the ceiling in my bedroom and imagine living in 1902 and taking the street car or walking everywhere I go. I hate built in obsolescence. I don’t like their need for petroleum and the pollutants they belch. I’m sad we live in a time and place that requires commuting long distances for so many things.
We’ve been parking Pearly Blue farther from church on Sunday morning because we’re a little uncomfortable. It’s been four weeks now and we finally received our license plates so at least the dealer plates which scream NEW CAR are gone and there is a fine layer of dust on the surface so it shines less.
The ones ‘on which the daily happiness of private life depends.’
Emma by Jane Austin
Driving home from St. Louis. A comfy, quiet ride in the new Pearly Blue. Talking about our future. For richer, for poorer. In sickness, in health. I say, quoting Dylan, “Stick with me, Baby. I’m sticking with you.”
Last night we climbed into bed in the soft lamp light. I fold down the top of our white cotton blanket. His side is yellowed and limpy feeling again. What’s with the male body? He disavows. Says I merely turned it to look like it’s on his side.
Denis isn’t feeling well. He has a cold, maybe a sinus infection. Last night as he fell into bed he moaned, “I’m just going to lie here and make my blanket yellow.”
Today he leaned on the doorway of the guest bedroom watching me pull old clothes out of the closet and dump them on the floor. He’d come down the hall from his office to investigate because he heard a blast and smelled gunsmoke – I’d found Jerem’s trombone and a cute little cap-gun that fired when I pulled the trigger.
He said the nicest thing. That he loves me because I’m whacked out and surprise him. I had no idea. I was only amusing myself. I was thinking of getting rid of the cap-gun and the trombone, but perhaps I should save them.
I stopped rummaging and lay down on the bed, and he sat on it, leaning against the wall, closed his eyes, and talked. About us, family, the church, where or if we should move and then he said, “I don’t want to live.”
Only in the past year have I understood that feeling. It’s not aggressively self- destructive – it’s a kind of tiredness – you want to lie down and not get up again because you’ve lost the heart and energy to walk.
I think a lot of it is lack of margin. Emotionally, spiritually, physically – he needs to be restored. I know he’ll feel better, renewed, if he has some time to recover.
This morning it’s raining gently. Dim inside. Cool out. The birds come to the feeder outside my office window. Bedraggled, hungry, they cling up-side down on the suet and swing on the feeder to grab a sunflower seed. Dear little wisps of God’s creation. Chickadees, nuthatches, downy wood- peckers waiting for complete redemption.
We packed a lunch, bought the NY Times and headed to Wabasha on the Mississippi. We drove the new car blasting Neko Case. We didn’t even read much. Just sat staring at the water, watching boats go in and out of the marina. About the middle of the afternoon Denis said, “I haven’t felt this happy in a long, long time.
Denis thinks about life without me. From our bed we watched a thunderstorm bend the trees. He said if I were to die first he would fade away. I think he’d get involved in his work and writing. I agree, there’s a lot we do without connecting consciously to the reasons that give them meaning. I make the bed, prepare a meal, pay the bills partly because I live with someone I love. When he was in Africa for two weeks we were completely out of touch. I savored the first three days of freedom. Then I no longer made the bed. Decisions about food became boring. I stood in front of the refrigerator, ate carrot sticks, and drank juice from the carton. Evenings stretched out long and silent and I kept the phone beside me in case, but it hardly rang. Then I wondered how it would feel to be widowed or to have always been single.
Interesting fact: a saguaro cactus does not put out its first arm – that signature reach to the heavens – until it is fifty years old.
I worked on Quicken from 6:30-9:30pm. WHY do I ignore bank statements for months at a time? Reconciling wouldn’t take so long if I weren’t crazy proud.
I kept being $5,000 off. I HATE stuff like this. Finally called Denis. But he has to be very, very careful because I’m dangerous like a black widow in heat. Sometimes he makes the mistake of asking in an accusatory voice: What have you done?!
He patiently looks at the figs and right-a-WAY sees the problem. It’s been right in front of me the whole time. I want to become a Luddite – “Please let me trade my cheese for your tomatoes.” Denis says don’t feel bad – “it doesn’t mean anything, for some reason I see numbers, like you see colors.”
I started crocheting again. Save the Children has a thing called “Caps to the Capital.” All over the U.S. knitters and crocheters are making little hats for newborns. (Many third world babies have a low birth weight and chill easily especially at night.) These will be added to national care packages sent to African countries. It seems so small, but it’s what I can do. In spare moments I make them. There are now 20 in the pile.
We’ve been arguing about scheduling details. I’m weary of it. We’re so different, yet bound together by vows. We try starting anew and fail. Then I thought of repairing us with intimacy. While he sat in the bedroom reading I prepared. But when I came back, he was gone downstairs watching TV. I felt silly and forlorn. Even though, I pitched him a ball he didn’t know was coming, when he came to bed, I said don’t speak to me.
I am heartened by prayer and confession. At communion when I eat the bread I imagine every cell of my being becoming a part of Jesus. I only wish the process was faster.
James Houston gladdens my heart. He’s been a godly spiritual director for years and advises it takes a long time to become the mature, godly person you assumed would grow overnight. He writes:
I need a greater unity and integrity of faith, while realizing that any progress God gives occurs at the slowest pace of all!
We find that becoming Christlike progresses almost imperceptibly. For authentic integration we need to expect appropriate rates of apprehension, conversion, and transformation. Like the psalmist, we will experience orientation, disorientation and reorientation as our emotions and desires are redirected and re-educated. Therefore we must maintain humility, gentleness, perseverance, fortitude, courage, and especially patience with ourselves as we pursue the journey.
-Joyful Exiles, p. 129
Drove North to Jerem & Micah’s. 8.5 hours in Pearly Blue. Looking forward to five days in charge of two little people. Anson, 3. Paige, 1 1⁄2.
After two hours of snacks, fights, shooting of guns, and “Bob the Builder” screaming CAN WE FIX IT? YES, WE CAN!!!, we walk to the post office. Took 30 minutes to dress them in snow pants, boots, hats, coats. I never could get their little balled up fists into their mitten thumbs. Thank God for Velcro. Just tighten the wrists and hope you haven’t permanently cut off circulation. They plod along the cold street. Both of them purposefully fall straight down like axed trees. They’re so padded they bounce. Anson begins to lick the snow off the street. There’s about a half inch of powder. He gets up, walks another fifty feet, does it again. Paige-y tries to copy him. I worry about poisons and pollutants. Finally give up telling him to stop, because he won’t. The town is hushed. A single dog has left tracks in the snow. Paige-y turns her sweet face to me, raises her arms, “Hode you, hode you.” Yes, I’ll hold you. I carry her the rest of the way there and back. By the time we get to the P.O. Anson’s face is dirty and wet. Snot is freezing on both their noses. At the P.O. a grizzled old guy pulls up in a rusty pick-up. “Yuh. Cold out ter today. Gettin’ bad weather. So then. Sleet turning ta snow. Yah. I’ll be seein’ ya then.”
They’re napping now. So am I. The house is an astonishing wreck. How do young mothers do it? How did I?
6p.m. I call my sister-in-law. Is 6:30 too early to put them to bed? We laugh. No, she says.
Unseasonable rain has coated everything in an armor of ice. There’s a woman’s Bible Study at my sister’s. With a babysitter. It’s only seventeen miles away and we’re going. So what if it’s ten degrees and the doors on Micah’s van are frozen shut? We creep along on treacherous sheets of ice. I take a wrong turn. I cross the railroad tracks three times praying I don’t stall in front of a Canadian Pacific and kill my grandchildren. The heater is barely working, but Paige-y is in her seat stripping. She has her mittens and hat off and both feet are bare. Anson is reporting.
Every day Denis has taken his work to a cute, little coffee café with free wireless, espresso, and all that. A tiny familiar resentment from long ago rises. The morning was okay until about 10:30 when everyone got hungry and crabby. They like to walk up behind and cuff each other for the heck of it.
Proof of the innate need of redemption. The next moment Anson hugs Paige-y and plants a kiss on her mouth.
Couldn’t find Paige-y’s sippy cup anywhere. It’s the only one she has and she wants it now. Searched and searched. Accidentally found it in the trash. It got there by itself, I think.
Denis home by noon. I said he must be back by then. He walked to the P.O. with Anson. Six inches of new snow. It poofs with each step. Anson is so happy to be outside. Paige-y howls at the window heart-broken at being left behind. I can’t bear her disappointment so I dress her in snow gear. In the yard she plays on the “Whee.” I help her climb up and she slides down into the snowdrift about a million times.
After supper I sit dangerously close to them on the couch. They’re throwing them- selves down on the cushions which, to them, is hilarious entertainment. The air around Paige-y grows a bit acrid – her diaper hangs low and heavy with every gel capsule filled to capacity. How long had I forgotten to change her? I ask, “Is your diaper soppy?” “Yuh.” Her stock answer to every question. “Is your diaper poopy?” “Yuh.” “Have you been eating rotting deer carcass again?” “Yuh.”
My vocabulary has pretty much been reduced to joose! poopy, and hode-you. Life’s little essentials.
I miss them, their little voices raised in woe, their tired heads on my shoulder. We understand the value of suffering, but would still spare them from all grief and tragedy. If we could.
Paliggenesiða – I Need It
North Shore. So quiet here. So lovely. Have been waiting for months to get here. The horizon is empty from edge to edge. Nothing but the lake surface moves, gently breathing in swells as far as the eye can see. The sky is gray. Water, rocks, trees, all are gray. Mesmerizing. My mind slowly empties and my heart drains away care. This is the Wayside Inn from Pilgrim’s Progress. Staying forever would be nice, but we’re just here to refit.
Staying in bed this morning. Drinking tea Denis brought. It’s gray and drizzly outside, but I’m elated. Last night I beat a bladder infection by slamming 16 oz of unsweetened cranberry juice four times. You can’t imagine how macho I feel – proud to skip urgent care.
Minutes later am on way to doctor with kidney infection. I beat nothing! Felt totally miserable. The doctor was kind and doesn’t mention how inadvisable this is.
Celebrating! Much better today. Fantastic how one moment you don’t want to live and the next you’re hungry and making cornmeal pancakes with real maple syrup.
I know one Greek word – dolmades (stuffed grape leaves, they’re yummy). I just learned another. Transliterated it is Paliggenesiða. The phonetic spelling is pal-ing-ghen-es-ee’-ah. It rhymes with I have raging diarrhea. Never mind how it sounds, you should love what it means. It is all the following: new birth, reproduction, renewal, re-creation, regeneration. The Greek dictionary gives several uses. My favorite:
…the signal and glorious change of all things (in heaven and earth) for the better. That restoration of the primal and perfect condition of things which existed before the fall of our first parents.
It’s only found twice in the New Testament:
“Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne,…” (Matthew 19: 28).
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3: 5).
This deep and glorious healing of all things through Christ is so certain Paul speaks of it as already having happened. It’s what is referred to as “now, but not yet.” When everything around invites us to despair paliggenesia keeps us crocheting little hats. Rescue, regeneration, that perfect Garden we’ve longed for ever since we had to leave – it will be, already is – ours.
*This essay first appeared in Notes From Toad Hall Issue #1 2007.