Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Great Escape

Yesterday, while I was nibbling on a piece of cafeteria-style sausage pizza in the lunch room, I noticed one of our new eighth-graders as she stood in line. She was oblivious to the squeals and smells around her, the jostling for a spot two inches closer to the food, and the inane banter which inevitably rises from young humans forced to be still for more than a minute. Her eyes and all her being were absorbed in a book, and she seemed pushed along the queue, oblivious, alone with her adventure. It took me back... a day when I was that girl in the line, holding my book, hardly daring to breathe, not eating even after I had set my tray on the table, because the danger was profound and nothing else mattered. The author was Francis Clifford and the book All Men are Lonely Now. My hero was a double agent, undeserving of any mercy, allied to the wrong side and worthy of scorn, fear, and retribution...and yet...I couldn't stand to see him discovered. For although I knew exactly what the author had done--made me love his main character before he showed me that fatal flaw--and although I resented him for having done that to me, an innocent reader only escaping from the overwhelming crush of high school triviality, I still couldn't help but pity the agent. He was a gentleman; he had a girl, and he treated her like any man treats his adoring beloved. Surely for her sake, he would defect. He would walk into that building and confess his double allegiance, and life would truly begin for the two of them. They would move to Tripoli or Managua and start a simple life of bliss. But it wasn't going that way. They were going to find him out. Right there, while I postponed eating the creamed peas and fish sticks. They were finding him out. It was like a blow to the stomach. I was shaking and I wanted to run for him, faster, over the fence....escape! escape! you beloved rat!

But I knew the guns were waiting, and I feared that his own beloved had set them on him. She too, it seemed, was an agent-- his nemesis--and all her love was a sacrifice to a just and righteous cause. If he discovered that, they wouldn't need a gun to silence him. Poor man. Poor, miserable, wrong-sided, creature.

I couldn't bear it. He needed an out. I gave it to him.

Slamming the book, I ate my cold peas in silence, and he turned around. He fought his way through the darkness, back to the dock, onto the ship to safety. He had escaped. And I, well I had been forced back into the light world of sophomore silliness, but I bore my punishment with a smile, convinced that I done the right thing in freeing a villain before the blind jaws of justice had snapped upon him.

That was thirty-five years ago. I own the book. It sits quietly on my bookshelf...still daring me to finish it.

This is an entry in Scribbit's Write-Away.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Magic Hours

Early this morning I was pondering the "wee hours".

I know that on New Year's Day everybody but me stayed up until then, visiting friends or attending church group parties, talking and eating and playing crazy board games. (Well, some families get a little wilder than that, but in my family that's about as wild as it gets.) I guess the "wee hours" are those low-digit numbers like one or two, those peaceful times when nobody is awake to call and ask you to do something for them. (They don't call because they think you are sleeping like normal sane people should.)

In my case, they would be right. I feel like ten o'clock is only good for nestling down in bed with a good book or crossword puzzle, preparatory to falling asleep and quietly resting until the "wee hours" when my husband finally comes to bed, having watched TV in the silent house, fallen asleep a couple of times, and awakened with a crick in his neck, but bearing that great satisfaction of having reached the magic hours before he went to idle early-to-bed sleeper is he!

Now, I would change the meaning of "wee" hours. I'd call them the "oui" hours. Yes! For me, those wonderful hours begin a little before six in the morning. I'm up, dressed, sipping coffee...and it's so quiet in the house. I check my e-mail, read a daily devotional, look at the blogs of all those people who were inexplicably up during the darkness typing away, and then check my puzzle pirate's apothecary stall on Viridian to see if I need to put in a bid for more yarrow or elderberries. ( I know it sounds crazy, but it's too complicated to explain.) If someone commented on a picture of me on facebook, I dash over there and read it. Then I usually poke them. They don't know it, of course; they are still sleeping too. All this before anyone stirs at all...except possibly my married daughter. She usually calls around seven o'clock. It's a morning ritual. I answer the phone in the den while her father--my groggy husband--grabs the phone by the bed and tries to sound like he has been up for at least ten minutes. She tells him to hang up because she really wants to talk to me. He falls asleep again (though not quite as soundly), and I have a little breakfast chat about the state of the world and how it has changed now that my grandchildren are rearranging it. Ah, I love those magic hours.

Of course occasionally--more often than not, actually--my two college kids are home. They too have "wee hours". But they call them "wii" hours. Those can happen anytime...and often happen all the least until the "new" wears off of their latest game.

Ah well, tomorrow I go back to work like a self-respecting human being. My magic hours will dwindle into minutes, but there's always something to anticipate. Tomorrow, it will be a cozy car trip with my three car pool riders all excited about school, and we will listen to Beethoven's First and Seventh Symphonies with the volume up high while the sun comes poking through the mists of morning.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Eight Years After I Thought the World Would End

Back in ancient times, say the seventies when life was all about high school and making it to the right classes in a row before the buzzer sounded, I never thought the world would last this long. I wondered whether I should marry, have children, and ever live in my own home.

Now I sit cozily in a parsonage--not my home, but good enough for one so temporarily visiting earth and better than I deserve. I've been married over thirty years, raised three children, held two grandchildren, and washed a lot of dishes.

I've watched the escalator of time under my feet as it carried me reluctantly into the future; sometimes it made me dizzy.

One thing I've learned is not to think, "Well, when this is over, I'll.....", or "I just wish I could finish this and get it out of the way," as if life will really start when the current problem is over. Living that way creates bubbles of unhappiness that have to be rushed to reach the "real life", but the escalator never stops, and every little bubble we detest takes up time, just like the bubbles we enjoy. So I'm trying to look for bliss during the most difficult of times. When I can't take any more of a stressful situation, I call my mother or my mother-in-law. I visit my sisters' facebook accounts and look at old pictures. I play a computer game or take a walk, creating a lovely moment to plunk down amidst the raging realities. And I open my eyes. What I mean by that is, I come out of my sightless world of worry, and notice the sun on little green shoots of wheat, the squirrels stealing pecans from the buckets on my back lawn, the shy smiles of friendly souls I encounter.

There is enough beauty in this world to heal a thousand uglies. And when we truly admire the beauty around us, it opens a door to God. We want to say thank you, and so we do, and in His greatness, our little bubbles of trouble fizzle back down to a reasonable size.

Ah well. It is a new year. I know it will be a great one. At least the escalator is going up.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

From the Dust of the Earth

Her favorite gift from Mom and Dad was a little play dough factory. You put the bright dough into a squeezing machine and from the other end you could cut long ribbons and snakes of yellow, blue, white or red. She played for hours that Christmas at the dining room table under grandpa's watchful gaze, rolling the dough into balls and forming shapes of stuff. She was three years old.

Today my second daughter still plays with clay, hours and hours of it. Only now she is an art major at college, trying to find a profession that she fits rather than squeeze into the mold of other professions. It's not an easy proposition, and the term "starving artist" takes on new relevance when one is in the family. I can see her job application now:

"Do you like working with math?
with writing?
as a salesman?
"absolutely not. I'm never cheerful. I hate talking on the phone, dressing up, and smiling--unless I want to smile--and then I certainly don't want to explain to anyone why I'm smiling."

All that to say, I think I'm seeing some real growth in my daughter's skills. When she began as an art major, she was years behind the others. She had not taken art since elementary school, and the few lessons she managed on the side were short-lived. Her term papers, however, were about her heroes: Thomas Gainsborough and Charles Dickens (who while he wasn't an artist gave descriptions as vivid as paintings). So she struggled through drawing drafts and piles of paintings, some fair, some fine, and some...well...finished.

This year, in her third year of pottery and her second year of sculpture, she produced an amazing likeness of one of her art student friends in a bust of clay garnished with triple layers of acrylic. His name is otherwise, but she calls him Des. He is gorgeous--I'm talking about the statue, not the guy (Hey, I don't even know the guy, but I did recognize him one day in the art lobby)-- from his long pony tail to the collar of his tunic-looking peasant shirt. Now certainly there will be a market for this skill. Aren't there hoards of people out there who wish to be immortalized and made to sit on a grand piano or on the shelf of a library?

I can see her now, not in a dusty fourth-floor corner of her shared studio in the old art building on campus, but in her own little messy studio, slaving away at creating men and women, not having to smile and nod, not bothering to answer the phone--or at least not politely--hiding that long signature on the back collar, beneath the pony tail.

Yes, that's my daughter, the artist....the one with clay on her shirt and paint all over her jeans.