Thursday, March 29, 2007

Small Victories

So we had the basement waterproofed. That was ten days ago. After they cut away the drywall, they found a leak in a water supply line. At first, I admit, I thought they must have busted it with those jackhammers they were using. But it was way up, just under the kitchen floor. When they finished installing the system, they rigged a trash bag to direct the drips into the drain. The system works great--I think it's quite spiffy, actually. But that leak--it was coming down behind the wall, only three feet from where I thought water was seeping in. Could I have mistaken it for a rising water table? Did I just spend four thousand dollars to fix a drippy pipe joint? Only time would tell, once the pipe was repaired.

Which was done on Tuesday. Wednesday night my wife came home from work and remarked how dry the outlet gutter was. (She was trying to compliment me for taking care of the leak.) I awoke at four a.m., worried about money. Why is it so damn hard to make one's economic way? Why am I so stupid as to buy an whole, completely unnecessary waterproofing system? But I went out once it was light, and there it was--a beautiful puddle of water, shimmering in the sun.

Should I invest so much emotion in such trivialities? I can't seem to help it. But it doesn't bother me as much to be bothered. Bothers can be small builders of wisdom. As I've gotten older, and especially since I've gotten married, I've sort of given myself up to them. Imagine if I had children, all the "trivial" problems I would have to solve. So...they're probably not that trivial. The daily and domestic really do form us. Didn't the Church Fathers say we encapsulate all of salvation history within us? We all must deal with our personal Egypts. James V. Schall says our lives are "theologically dramatic." I smile at my feelings of triumph at this small victory, but I am also reminded, once again, to trust, to learn, and not to feel so desperate when things seem dark.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

With My Wife on Retreat

Where There Are No Rooms for Married Couples

Please bless us, Lord, your simple pair,
Who seek our spirits' resting here,
Two flesh in one apart tonight,
Protect us both from harm or fright.

Protect this house, this gentle school,
Help us to keep its holy rule;
It teaches love by keeping us apart,
A wholesome tearing, heart from heart.

Though you are some way down the hall,
It's really not that far at all,
And all around these sacred places
God's love descends and fills with graces.

Someday sick or dead or dying,
We will in separate beds be lying;
But know, my dear, in that dark hell,
God's love and grace are there as well.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Off on Retreat

Going to Wernersville, the Jesuit retreat house, for three days next week. I was looking forward to it last week, now I'm feeling a bit of unease. Very normal emotion--each retreat is a journey, after all. ("Journey" with all its material, spiritual, and psychobabbly overtones.) I'm not a great traveler to begin with, and anything can happen on a retreat. The physical journeying itself so often jolts the soul's inertia. One can imagine what a medieval pilgrim felt the night before shipping out to Jerusalem.

But I like Wernersville. I felt such a sense of relief when I drove through those gates last year. It's an old novitiate house, a huge one, with plenty of room for retreatants to rattle around in. And plenty of outdoor space, too, for walking. Good art and a good library. A dedicated, engaging staff. And a giant stone of a chapel that resists modernizing.

"Resists modernizing"--Catholic antennae going up! OK, in the interests of full disclosure, my sensibilities are pretty conservative. But Wernersville's is not, so...if you're liberal Catholic, you can go jauntily, and if you're conservative Catholic: don't cheat yourself, it's very welcoming and not at all over the top. I'll just say I've very rarely gone there when somebody at some point hasn't whipped out a rosary. Non-Catholics are welcome, too, and, if they are also wondering what Catholics are fussing about, try A People Adrift by Peter Steinfels, which I thought was pretty even-handed, accurate, and, frankly, quite dispiriting.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Lawns and War

Today I decided to cancel the lawn service and cut my own lawn. For several years now, I have felt alienated from my lawn. Sad to say, but true. Now, the vegetable garden--that is mine, for I dug it myself. Many pleasant hours have I spent there, reading or soaking up the sun. Part of the reason for my alienation, I think, is that L. was here already when I moved in, so the lawn was just the ground around the house, serviced by men who evidently traveled hundreds of miles--from Mexico!--to do just that. But as we've worked on little projects and planted memories, those mysterious bonds to house and land have been growing. And now I feel ready to embrace the property in its entirety, to experience it more fully. I'm speaking lightly, of course, but I know I will be loving it more--whatever it means to "love" the land.

Once when I was making a month-long retreat at a dharma center--now this is nine or ten hours a day sitting on a cushion meditating--three of us went out during work period and put up fence posts. It's hard to convey everything I felt when we were done, looking at those posts spaced out across the expanse of meadow. The beauty of the setting, feelings of work well done, and even more, the sense of territory, the sense of marking out or claiming--conquering, even--made for a heady mix of emotions.

"Earth is good / but land is better / And best of all / a land still fought for / Even in retreat." Donald Davidson, one of the Southern Agrarians. Land is better than earth, because it carries the notions of human activity, law, and culture. Not a way of looking at nature we normally encounter today, with our romanticized ideas of Earth as Peaceful and Benevolent Mother.

I once read about a British officer of World War I. He had fought with the infantry, and then had been transferred to the new tank outfits. The movement and speed of the tanks opened up a new world of tactical maneuver to him, so used to the static misery of the trenches. And it was gratifying, so much so that he said he suddenly understood how warfare could so absorb men's energies.

Well, "War is the natural activity of man--war, that is, and gardening." I am led to believe Churchill said it. And he knew a thing or two about both.