(the soundtrack for this post is Ceremonials by Florence and the Machine)
I have discovered something recently. Almost as an accident, and mostly because it annoys my husband.
I see literary elements. I see them everywhere.
I'm watching an episode of The Wonder Years and then - what was that?- a haunting half-invisible theme drifts across a typically saccharine coming-of-age story.
Becoming a teacher of literature has honed my skills far more than an addiction to reading all through my childhood or even years of reading great books as an English major. To see something is one thing; to make someone else see it is wholly other.
I have been toying with the idea of reading the bible for literary elements, too. Not a 'bible as literature' humanistic thing, but more as a way to see how genius God is. Because surely if we mere humans, which includes the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, Cormac McCarthy, and John Steinbeck, can slay each other with heart-wrenching stories of love, betrayal, loneliness and aching, then surely, surely, the author of the authors can do it. and better.
And so I find myself once again in kings and chronicles. I love these books so much because they read like great literature already- and prove that no one has an 'in' with God. One of my favourite stories of all is in 1 kings 13. Let me give you a summary: There is an evil, wicked king. I mean bad. So bad that for decades afterward, if you wanted to describe someone else as horrid, you said they were like this guy. Anyway, he goes and breaks the law by creating a new altar and some false gods. So God sends a prophet to tell him 'hey, you're gonna die- stop doing this.' King Evil gets so mad, he just sticks out his hand to yell at this prophet, but then his hand shrivels immediately. Suddenly he is contrite and full of forgiveness. Still, God says he has to go. Evil invites prophet to his house for dinner and drinks, but prophet says, 'no way! God told me not to eat with you- I can't even go back the way I came!' So he leaves. On his way home, he encounters another prophet. This other prophet invites him over, too, and he declines politely. But then the prophet says 'Oh- God TOLD me to ask you,' so then he goes home with him and eats. Of course, prophet 2 was lying (why? and why isn't he ever punished? we never find out - apparently not the important part. That's what I would tell my kids- he is a static character, and we never see the end of his story, so you know the theme is not 'what goes around comes around'), and then he has the audacity to TELL prophet 1 that he was disobedient and will die on the way home. Sure enough, after dinner, prophet 2 heads out and WHAM! gets killed by a lion.
The really crazy part is that then prophet 2 feels real bad, gets his sons to saddle up the donkey, goes and finds the body, takes it home, MOURNS him, buries him in his own tomb, and tells his sons what a great man he was and that his prophecy about king super evil will come true.
ok, now it's time for the quiz: what is the moral or theme of the story?
Never, ever, listen to someone who says, 'God told me...' ?
Stick to your gut- or lions will tear them out?
Don't believe someone, even a 'holy' someone, if what they say is contradicting what you know you should do?
I am not entirely sure. I feel very far from ancient near eastern culture, and parts of the old testament really stump me.
But that got me thinking (that and one of the hardest weeks of teaching this year): what are my themes? What would I try to write, through narrative, if I were an author?
I have things I try to narrate to my students all year long, but I rarely get to prove that they are true.
Hard work pays off (I use that as my attention-getter in class).
Taking shortcuts is rarely worth it in the long run.
If you have the time to copy, you have the time to do it on your own, and learn it.
Being mean is not cool, and will make you a sad, lonely person in the end.
My confidence is that maybe later in life they will hear an echo of my voice when someone else tells them that, or that they will trust and avoid the trouble altogether.
And then I think "What about life?" What would I write if I were trying to tell humanity about what I believe is true about God, life, love, fulfillment, revenge....
I would like to say that hard work does pay off and that your dreams will come true if you stick with them. But then I see my husband- he works harder at pursuing his dreams of music than anyone I know, and is met with a big Universal cricket chirping. He just said, "I am utterly ignorable." It seems true. If you look at his life so far, you'd probably say, 'dude, pick another dream.' But he can't. It is IN him to write songs, to play, to help people worship and to think deeply about those things. It has been a long, long past three years, and now that we have uprooted ourselves to pursue my dream, we are left realizing he is where I was three years ago. And not that he was absolutely fulfilled back home. It depends how you define success, but by most definitions, he was not successful. He did realize this: he loves to teach others about music and worship. He had a small, tightly-knit worship team and that is what he longs for again. And here we are, in Rock n' Roll's birth city, and spencer is withering. That sounds dramatic, but that is the word we both used this weekend while talking about it. Withering is a slow process, often visible.
I've come to realize the value and place of work (you can call it ministry, calling, whatever). Having a purpose in life for which you were uniquely made. I am going to lay aside the entire argument for or against this, and what exactly it can be, for my purpose here. Without something meaningful to do each day, people slowly wither. It could be the homeless man you see at the same corner on your way to Target. No matter what he has done to get there, he needs something to do; he doesn't need money. The retired person, or widowed wife, who sits at home most afternoons, no one to clean up after, no one to share her wisdom with, no one asking for help. It is a crazy thought for a hard-working, youthful, self-reliant person such as myself, but it's dawned on me recently that asking for help is a blessing to people. It humbles me and it gives them a chance to make someone's day better with their own talents and experiences.
At this point, you're probably thinking, 'what is the theme of your post, tara?'
I admit, I started writing this Friday afternoon. It is now Sunday afternoon. I hesitated writing about spencer, because it seems so personal. I don't want people thinking he is sitting here moping about. I would say his life mirrors nature. He is in a winter stage. I read in a gardening book recently that winter is actually necessary- it kills fungi and helps things get ready to bloom in the spring. Much is going on beneath the surface. Spencer's days are filled with his own projects and ideas- and that is only in the past year, once I started making a teacher's salary. He writes, he sings, he records, he researches, he designs. I cannot imagine Someone who created him will let that all go to nothing. I think the world needs what spencer has made, just like my 8th graders need me (but never as much as I need them).
What I hope and pray are themes in spencer's life are: waiting, trust, instant success is rarely good for someone, trials and disappointments show you yourself and what is truly important, and that there is an Author who is up there writing and designing, and all this is not random.
From what I've seen in life so far, these things are true, so I wait and hope and trust.