The only sounds I hear right now are wind picking up outside and rain leaking through the roof and landing in a metal pot in my entryway. This relative quiet means that the rest of my family has fallen asleep together upstairs: a rare group nap in anticipation of a late Halloween night. I’m alone on the sofa with a thin blanket, and it’s cold in here. I could turn the heat up, but I’m struck by the not-unpleasant sense of porous boundaries, of the outside getting in. The rain, and the wind, and the cold. This is always true, I think. This fluidity. Walls don’t offer the kinds of division we pretend they do. But I’m not always as willing to see it as I am today.
I’m brewing a second small pot of coffee. The lunch dishes are still scattered on the table, and I’m trying just to notice this. Noticing is a big thing lately. Noticing how little I understand time, with its wild variations: fast, slow, racing by. Other wild variations are a big thing lately too: my mood, my wife’s kindness, all of our trust. I suspect that my awareness of these swings is an ironic product of being settled. We are all safe to feel the complexities. Of being a preschooler. Of being a toddler. Of being married (in happiness. in frustration. in resignation. in gratitude.). Of being parents of young people and all of the young-people needs. The too.many.things that we are, so that life is crowded even when it’s pared down and simple. And so we swing, all of us, right now. From euphoric love to resentment and resistance. From surety to restlessness. From desperate need to rejection. All of us, with the wild variations, and with time refusing to steady itself.
I’ve been wanting and wanting to write. Writing, though, is a kind of standing still, and stillness seems to be what life is most unwilling to yield these days. And yet. There’s a lot to say. When I think about this space, I can’t really think about readers anymore. This isn’t because I don’t still love the sense of community, or crave it. I do. But I’m unsure of what I offer that is worth receiving by anyone who isn’t one of us. And I’m not even sure what I mean by one of us. Maybe I mean the kids one day. Maybe I just mean me. Anyway, I can only write here as a keeping of some kind of record. For later. For when there’s time to stand a little more still and listen to the way things were when there wasn’t time to really hear. And if this space is worth something outside of that, then that something can stand on its own.
So, for the record. And anything else this might be worth.
The house. We’ve been in this house for coming up on two months, and we were right. It is right. We’re getting to know it. It is a creaky old house. You can’t move around here without everybody knowing about it. It has other surprises too, of course. Beautiful morning light. An expansiveness that must be about something other than square footage. A kind, inviting feel that has kept people here through the ages: it’s almost a hundred years old and we’re only its fifth family. Our pathways here are far from worn, but they’re being created. The fact of living here is no longer startling. And I’m in no rush to learn the secrets this space holds. I understand marriage enough now to let the complexity of this new undertaking unfold.
And the Birdie. Who is determined and willful and emotionally vast. Who is as physical as a high-speed train. And who is a nurturer: of me, of Bram, of his stuffed bunny, Henry. He has a sense of humor that the rest of us lack, and it sets him apart, and it makes us grateful. He is eager to please us. He delights in the world, and is every bit as watchful as his brother has always been, but less reluctant. He doesn’t love music yet, and he doesn’t always love books. He is affectionate as a cat is affectionate, which is to say: on his terms. For these reasons, he has made me work much harder than Bram ever did to figure out how he wants to be loved. But, oh, when he feels seen by one of us, he lights up. He is a small, radiant lighthouse. And he surprises me everyday.
And Bram. Bram, who studies life. Who burrows into it: all depth, that kid. Who draws for hours without a break. The same creatures over and over. Who wants to read the same long books until he’s mastered them. He does not live on the surface, and so surfaces startle him. School is still hard: not the work of it, but the light relational part. He is discomforted by the presence of more than he can process at once. He is every bit the storyteller that he’s always been, and the same narratives still drive him: good vs. evil. Americana. Love and defeat. I can’t imagine he’ll ever be good at small talk.
And happiness. Sometimes I think: this is what it feels like to live your values. To be happy, and exhausted, and bewildered, and broken, and flooded with grace. I think I’m happy because I’m made that way, and not everyone is, but I also work hard to live a life that is in keeping with what I sense to be true about the world. And that is work, but it also offers a contentment that I imagine (remember, even) is hard to come by otherwise. So: this class- and race-diverse neighborhood. A devotion to the mystery of liturgy. A commitment to using my spirituality in action. Food ethics. Marriage. Patient and positive parenting. Compassion. Grace. Love. Surrender. Surrender. Surrender. The rewards not of immediate pleasure, but of investment.
And God. A couple of weeks ago, I sat at a downtown, outdoor cafe, only a couple of blocks from St. Luke’s, with the best staff imaginable. And the sun was shining down on us and there was easy camaraderie and good food. And someone mentioned that winter is coming. And someone else said that the town’s only real shelter can’t meet our need. And someone else looked around and said isn’t it a shame to have all these buildings down here and all of them shuttered. And then: a conversation about resources. And J just finished a month long diaper drive: gathering 24,000 diapers, which is enough for 500 families for a week. Because diapers are expensive, and necessary, and not covered by any of this nation’s fiscal safety nets. And Sara Miles started the food pantry at St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco fifteen years ago this week. So, God. And Jesus. Christianity, to me, is never about charity. Never. It is always about remembering that we are all welcome at the table, and that means coming to the table and bringing what we have. And that what we have isn’t a reflection of who we are. It just is. So we give. And we take. And none of that makes us better or worse. All it makes us is God’s. And blessed, of course. And under obligation to one another not because we are more or less fortunate, but because we’re what we have of God. We’re what we have. We are as porous as my house is today. I don’t know. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to tell this story.
In the meantime, Bram will be Robin Hood tonight. Which is perfect for him, my small prince of thieves. And Lou will be Little John: his brother’s devoted fellow. And I will be Maid Marian. And J will be the Sheriff of Nottingham: no justice without the unjust. And our block will filled with trick-or-treaters from the neighboring streets, which aren’t so safe, and some of the neighbors here will bemoan this, and I will give thanks, once more, for the failures of boundaries. How they make us all more human. And tomorrow, guided by our liturgical calendar, we will celebrate the saints: sing their names in a litany that will take my breath away. And Monday we will honor the dead. We’ll put Emmett Ever’s ashes in the columbarium at St. Luke’s: at once a gesture of honor and of release. Her name will be etched in gold in a room whose smell I cannot describe but cannot stop loving.
And we’ll go on praying, and questioning, and misunderstanding, and being misunderstood. I am well over a third of the way through reading the Bible in a year. And I can’t be one of those people who wishes for my children’s growth to slow down because their growth is the most viscerally sacred thing I know. And I will keep wanting more stillness. And keep not making choices that would bring it to me. And I will stay grateful for this good and pretty life full of complex, beautiful, frail humanity.