The Soundtracks of Life

I listen to Red Mountain and drive five miles under the speed limit, while the car behind me weaves in and out of view from my side mirror: he would pass were it not that Sunday brought as many police as it did slow drivers. Let him swerve; it is Sunday, and I march to a slower beat than has coursed through me the week over.

Depression swallowed me most of these last few days. I lived in the gullet of that ancient foe, despairing of life. The tribal rhythm that beat in my veins came in contrasting waves of weak-abandonment and anger. Anger is the worst of the two for it leaves me hollow, empty, sad. At least with the abandonment, I wish to sleep. But anger drives and drives one to foolishness, madness till I cry, “I am betrayed. I am betrayed.”

Tuesday night I lay in the semi-dark haze of almost night. Zeke’s foot slowly beat upon the wall of the next room, drumming out the slowest tempo; it rang hollowly throughout the house, only then to echo in my soul. God, I hate the monster that betrays me. I lay, assuredly I did—I lay upon the bed I had decimated in my wrath not twelve hours earlier with a blow of bitter scorn. Splintered shards of cherry wood still clung to the sheets, while I—longing for sleep—felt my life played out in the percussion of my son’s foot.

Meanwhile, giant machines drove up and down the road scraping off the layers of blacktop and cement: three inches deep, two lanes wide, and ten miles long. They grown under the yawning light; I groan, and wish at times that I could be so scraped. That I, like some ancient road, might be ground down to the heart of who I am. Or, better still, that I—like Lewis’ Eustace—dragon-like though I be, might feel the singular claw of the lovely Aslan penetrating past the thick skins of anger, depression, and despair, might render me whole again.

After the bed broke under my anger, the silence broke by Isaac’s frustration. He sat upon my lap and reproved me again and again, while I apologized as many times. He said, repeatedly, “You are a bad daddy.” I almost believed him, while behind his words, another uttered those same lies. But then, like a ray of hope, Jonah’s voice broke in—and with it the host of heaven and the promise of salvation for all those who die at the end of their own means, only to be born again by the wings of Christ—“Isaac, he isn’t a bad daddy. He just has sin.” I am Paul: wicked man that I am, who will free me from this body of death? I am Eustace. I am the scraped road which roughly bears up under the weariness of life’s journeys.

Darkness breaks. A ray of hope. The music changes and I smile at the silliness of driving slowly on a Sunday afternoon. The troubling beats of music have died, giving way to this gentle theme, born of heaven, echoed in the heart of the saved sinner: if ever I loved thee, my Jesus tis now. Sing on, ye ancient tunes: ye are the soundtracks of life.


Commodity of Time

At the intersection of Burgundy and 141, a shoe lies just to one side of the slow lane, along with broken bottles, various parts to various cars, and a sundry of unrecognizable fragments from human life. How these unassociated objects came to fill up one crossroads of culture and time, God only knows: What series of unlikely events caused an orphaned shoe to be abandoned here? What collision of motion and matter caused some vehicle to cast off these fragments of composition? Given a lifetime of replays and backward weeks, I would spend one of them watching the composition of a collage—neither fully art nor truly junk.

But time is not a commodity to play—like penny slots—nor history at the whimsy of any, but recollection. I come to the end of another week, unable to wait until Saturday, anxious to write before I forget. My memory, played back over, grows more and more like that street corner: littered with fragments which tell nothing by themselves but which, part to whole, are the key to some event.

Tired, but motivated to push through the piles that build, at home and at work, I worked the week hard. I drank two Pepsi’s—I have not had one in four years—and wonder why the crisp spritz perpetually reminds me of fall-fairs in otherwise forgotten fields of Mississippi, attended a lifetime ago.

Graduation is this week, and the echoes of my own graduation two years ago rise up with the early winds. A cool breeze stirred up the smell of freshly-cut grass and sickly-sweet smell of mulch. I spotted the faithful mower, Wade, busy about his work even before I could set to my own.

Jonah alone, of the three boys, was awake this morning when I readied myself for work. I sat down next to him in the playroom and he asked, “Will you play war with me?” I agreed and took up Batman against the Blue Power-Ranger. With kerpows and ba-bangs our figures locked in mortal battled against one another. The motions of the toys manipulated in our hands, the sounds that came from our mouths, seemed so comical that we could not help but laugh. And I wondered—in a moment of somber reflection—whether in heaven, all the wars of this life will seem so much play and humor, as glory transforms horror to reveal a sovereign grace where history only remembered hardship.

And yet, for now, the hardship remains. At church, a young woman dies. Diagnosed with some minor issue, a burst aneurism and a stroke later, she comes to the end of one life even as Christ prepares her for the next. What will she remember of the fight and battle? Certainly our sorrows go into heaven with us, for only then can the Savior wipe away every tear. Life is no commodity.

Meanwhile, Humanity embarks upon a technological biology, marrying creature with the created, manipulating this genome and that strand, convincing that bacteria to shit silicone or this virus to eat cancer. The Peter Singers of the world proclaim the end of Down-Syndrome. They hum the victory of science, aborting the would-be Stephen Hawkings of our age and all others who appear the sundry of unrecognizable fragments of human existance. I fear that the eradication of the obviously-broken is a denial of the universal longing that troubles us all; we live forever, but are less human than machine, less the outlets of sympathy that have forever validated the echo of the divine marking our souls.

If I were MacGyver, I might save some helpless woman by building some weapon of pacifism from the byway-ruins of cultural crossroads: a shoe, a bolt, a broken light. If I were Batman, I would be content to contend forever against Blue-Ranger. If I were St. Peter, I might deliver the future-Hawkings from the future-Sangers—declaring the words of Christ, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

Time is no commodity, and the journey of life runs in one direction: forward. Like Grandma said—looking at my boys—during that last visit, before she died, “They don’t grow down, do they. Only up.” By what unlikely events have the seemingly randomness of these thoughts come together to litter the intersection of my memory? Though not art, I do not have it in me to give it up like so much junk.


Amiss in May

By noon on Friday, I could not bear to sit in my office any longer. The weight of what seem a thousand projects pressed upon my shoulders. I could feel the familiar beginnings of depression, agitated by circumstance, busyness, and the reality that none of my projects are anywhere near completion. The sky loomed gray in the west, beyond the peak of the administration building. The temperature dropped to forty-five degrees in the cold rain. Even the Red-Tailed hawk, which often chooses that same peak, was not to be seen. Something was amiss in May.

Driven to the outdoors, I stood looking at the piled pilings of disassembled playground that filled the back half of the driveway. It mocked me, like the Albatross, hung around the neck of the foolish mariner who shot it for whimsy; I would shoot it too. But it would do no good. So I set to my labors, painstakingly painting every side, angle, and beam—new and old—of the task. The wind tore at my bare legs, while my jacket shielded my arms and chest. Five hours of bending, twisting, reaching with the roller first, then the brush, and then the roller again. The wind blew. Hercules, I mumbled, won’t you trade tasks for a season?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And then, after the Fall, God said, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I have eaten of that bitter dust this week, troubled by the nagging doubts of insecurity. How is it that some people must always abide the derision of men? Others, like myself, must abide the secret-telling of arranged meetings and undisclosed topics of conversation, spoken of in my presence in ambiguous language, and with all of the high-school gossip. It is as though some, by their very hinting at secret knowledge or undisclosed matters gain, somehow, for themselves an intrinsic value and importance. Not I. Never I, while the secrets of friends wound more than the curses of enemies.

Wednesday night, I meant to escape off alone. Shannon gave me permission to leave the bedtime routine to her. “Go,” she said, “And have fun.” I meant to see the Sentinel. But the exhaustion which depresses me during daylight hours convinced my body it could do nothing; but sleep. And sleep I did, for some twelve plus hours. Morning broke: disappointment. Why can’t I delight in the rest from my labors, and why does sleep renew the body but not the spirit? More questions to ponder, in this backwards week.

Tuesday: MLB and a 5:30 wakeup. Monday nearly wasted completely, distracted as I’ve been by the silliness of stocks. MMM is up. NFLX is down. CRDN is down then up and down and…I begin to wonder whether I should sell the one to buy the other and the possibilities of thirty cents here and twenty cents there compounded by the difference in share price of 40% is confiscation for the mind. Do I think that I can conquer the great hoard, that through the amassing of wealth, I should have power and with power, recognition and with recognition, command that…that…no more secrets be told by friends in the presence of friends? Would I also command that the Red-Tailed hawk always observe from the same perch?

Perhaps I do better to turn off the computer and walk away. Perhaps, like that dear bird, I need only a new perspective. Let the Spring bring what it may, whatever be amiss. Let stocks fall while hawks rise; there is no secret knowledge. Hercules is silent; he will answer my challenge, and so I eat by the sweat of my face, till I return to the ground.