Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Forget-Me-Not-the-Have-Nots

He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted,
to bind up the brokenhearted... (Is 61:1) 

When I was 6ish, busy with fashioning my own paper dolls (and putting centipedes and Jerusalem crickets in the same container in the hopes that they would FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT... I don't *think* I was a little psychopath [and, anyways, the bugs didn't fight]), I had a garden of weeds.

My mother was (still is) an avid amateur gardener. As spring came round, she'd roll up her sleeves, tie back her dark hair, and begin pulling out the weeds that had sprung up as the garden slumbered through the cold-ish season.

I'd see the limp heads of dandelions in the pile of discarded vegetation, the delicate leafy greens that never bore flowers but whose vibrant alluring verdancy forgave their lack, the flora no one wanted though they were exquisitely beautiful. I determined that I would save them because this was not fair. These weeds had grown up in those bits of dirt, allowed to live brief lives unmolested until their yellow glory burst forth or their leaves unfurled and stretched wide like yawns. Why did they need to make room for more stately flowers, especially just when they'd come into their own with the advent of spring?

There was small secluded corner in our garden and there I tended the earth as best I could. It was rocky with clumps of hardened dirt, so I dug out the rocks with my hands and smashed apart the dirt clumps. Voilà! The perfect spot.

I carefully planted the discarded weeds and hunted through the garden to find more to rescue before my mother did them violence. I'd whisper childish things to them as I watered about how they would be safe here and I would take care of them... a couple weeks later, my mother came upon my carefully tended little plot (how it appeared to me, though it likely looked like a hodgepodge play area) and TORE UP ALL MY WEEDS, THREW THEM AWAY, AND PLANTED IMPATIENS THERE INSTEAD. IMPATIENS!
This is not an analogy for gentrification.

Also, contrary to story-patterns, we did not then have a heart-to-heart talk and make the choice to plant things together or even to preserve the weeds in some fashion. NOPE. I became incensed, yelled at her, and nursed resentment as she, mystified by my anger, shrugged her shoulders and continued with her gardening.

Later, I left my paper dolls out amid the flowers and wandered away to play inside - she watered the garden and my paper dolls were reduced to grey mush including one in a pale green dress that I'd thought was utter perfection. 

There was MUCH for me to forgive that spring. 

My Irish through-n-through babysitter used to watch me and cluck despairingly: "Ach, Deirdre, born with a tear in 'er eye."

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'I tell you, to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.' (Lk 19:26)

Some words in the Gospel have a harsh ring that jars. The parable of the talents is one that I understand, but which, on some level, I still fight with. Taken out of context, it looks like the weeds, the beggar on the street with holes in his socks and no jacket to cover his shivering exposed body, the senior with the fixed pension choosing between medicine, food, and housing, are just sheeet outta luck. It's Job who cries out in the face of his dirt-rubbing friends "...the tents of robbers are prosperous, and those who provoke God are secure...!" (12:6) 

The mail-room in my apartment complex also serves as a foyer where residents awkwardly scootch past each other to get at the elevator or mumble what might (?) be greetings as we check mail. I was peeking into the mailbox alongside a senior and we both had received a letter from the landlord. She took in trembling hands and said, haltingly: "I hope...this isn't another rent increase," before shuffling off to take the elevator up, her legs long past the time when steps were friendly paths instead of jagged biting death drops. 

The missive was letting all tenants know that there would be a cleaning of the junk in the garage and anything left unattended after x-date would be thrown away - but, still, there will be a letter about the rent increasing. Is this the sort of person who will have their pittance removed before being cast into the outer darkness? 

I identify with the servant who went and buried the talent told his master "I was afraid..." I am afraid so often. Afraid of myself and what I am capable of, afraid of what others think of me, afraid of being found insignificant, afraid of trying, afraid of failing. 

I GET the servant with the one talent in a way that I don't get the self-assured servants who, with casual acumen, simply go off and double what they were entrusted with...like it was nothing!

Again and again we hear in the bible "be not afraid..." It is the Lord who stills our fearful beating hearts into tranquility, who is refuge, who holds His hand outstretched for us to grasp because we are structurally mired in an abyss of desire for Him but. can't. get. there. on. our. own. (See Aquinas on worship if curious about this.) It is this same Lord that we fear. I'm not going to get into the two types of fear that we can have, 'cause that would make this ridiculously long. But the movement from the wrong sort of fear to the right sort of fear is...difficult. 

The parable isn't about material things, sure, yeah. It doesn't exactly pertain to the cases above except that the literality of it is borne out by our experiences. However, the physical can serve as a mirror for the spiritual. There are those paralyzed with fear by an impoverished understanding of God's mercy, who are allowed to wilt and wither and die.  

I've read and heard in homilies that we may feel some sympathy for the man with the one talent but, really, we shouldn't feel sympathy for him. It rings to me like Virgil rebuking Dante for having sympathy for the damned - and Virgil was not among the denizens of heaven so perhaps not exactly a 100% reliable guide as to the nature of grace (not that I'm even remotely suggesting universal salvation -- just that being moved to pity isn't something we should necessarily get knocked for). 

Whether or not we should feel sympathy for him, I do feel sympathy for him and for every creature that freezes in a panic before God, afraid and horrified by the two-faced quick-turning brutality of human justice that they see propagated about them, imagining that God is likewise. We need voices telling them, assuring each other, to fear not. 

Captain Obvious? Perhaps. But I'm not attempting any theological exposition that teeters on a diving board at the edge of a limpid pool of revelation.

When thinking of this (which I do now and then), the first line of a poem from Parker keeps sounding in my head: 

Bric-A-Brac, by Dorothy Parker 
Little things that no one needs --
Little things to joke about --
Little landscapes, done in beads.
Little morals, woven out,
Little wreaths of gilded grass,
Little brigs of whittled oak
Bottled painfully in glass;
These are made by lonely folk.

Lonely folk have lines of days
Long and faltering and thin;
Therefore -- little wax bouquets,
Prayers cut upon a pin,
Little maps of pinkish lands,
Little charts of curly seas,
Little plats of linen strands,
Little verses, such as these.

______________________
I feel like this writing is a bit sloppy and overly-sentimental. C'est la vie. 

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