And then there’s that other thing…

Well the reality of the situation is that after four months in Italy I’m returning “home” and sometimes I think I’m just dusting my hands and saying, “well that’s that,” but really it’s much more than that.  I keep thinking: “and then there’s that other thing…”  One more reason why I can’t wait to go home, one more reason why I’m reluctant to leave.  It’s always an area of interest, when your heart feels so torn and beat up about something.  An area of pain or suffering, perhaps, but adding yet another layer to life and as a writer I can’t help but say: “I hate that this is happening to me, but I love that this is happening to me.”

Honestly, there are going to be problems anywhere you go.  And I’m not raining on anybody’s parade here, I’m just saying.  You go to a place thinking that it’s as emotionally easy as looking at a photograph of that place.   Then you go, you meet people.  Not only do you eventually have to leave them, sometimes they leave you, and they leave you forever, and you’re left grieving for them in a place foreign to you, feeling more alone than ever.  Because of your turmoil, the place begins to be a special place to you.  You develop a way of living.  You become accustomed to certain things (for me, the church bells ringing all the time, the pigeons, and these huge keys for all the doors) and then you find that you have to leave all of this behind, to practically start over.

Life is all about “continual beginnings” and “habitual fresh starts” as J.R.R. Tolkien would have it.  But I think it’s a matter of realizing that it is a “fresh” start.  You don’t pick up right where you left off, when you come home.  You start exactly as you find yourself in that moment.  And if I may be allowed to quote Tolkien again….  “How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?”  We live too much in the past.  We experience one thing, and instead of accepting what it has been, we go back to try to experience the same thing again, but it never works like that.  Nothing is the same, and you are left feeling empty and dissatisfied with yourself and everybody else.

And in a sense this is going into the idea of home more than the idea of being abroad.   I love home.  It’s a crazy place filled with love and stupid fights about who gets the last piece of pie, and tons of people, not just siblings but aunts and uncles and it’s this time of year, Christmas, that I get to enter back into that circle of family, that just keeps stretching with more births and marriages.

But I find that when I am dreaming of home, I am dreaming of my home in Cleveland.  When I realize that I no longer live in Cleveland, I am dreaming of the old house in Pittsburgh, where we had fires in the winter and out of my window at night I could see the stars, and in the morning see a damp, dull light fingering its way through a bleak sky.  I loved those mornings.  And it’s a harsh reality to remember the summer before I went away, the summer we moved (again) into a house where I was never at home in the literal sense.  And this is nobody’s fault, it’s just the way it was.

What is important in coming back? Things are never as you expect them to be.  They always end up being different.  Here I am filled with nostalgia for my old homes, and yet I have the spirit and the joy of those old homes waiting for me in this new house.

Sure, life is hard.  And I’m not saying that lightly.  (Well, I am, but I’m not saying it thoughtlessly.)  I have a few brutally hard things running through my mind.  The things that keep me up at night. Yes, life is hard and it’s something to accept and something to deal with.  And also I have been reading Thomas Watson’s “All Things for Good” and he has been laying particular emphasis on the fact that some of the best things come from our difficulties and our sufferings.  God is constantly nurturing and growing us, growing us to him, always.  He’s not stomping on our heads or starving us or deserting us entirely or leaving us to die.  The simple fact that everything is, in the end, for our own good is in itself a hard thing to believe and accept, but once you can accept it, it frees you from so much fear and worry and doubt.

I have learned so much while I have been here.  I love so many things, I will miss so many things.  But this is wonderful about the human capacity to love and appreciate—there are even more things for me to love and develop the further I plunge into life.  And really, even though “going home” seems to imply a sense of safety and security, it feels more like an adventure right now, almost like home is a place I’ve never gone to before.

And I cannot, absolutely cannot resist quoting Wendell Berry as my closing thought: “I see that the life of this place is always emerging beyond expectation or prediction or typicality, that it is unique, given to the world minute by minute, only once, never to be repeated. And this is when I see that this life is a miracle, absolutely worth having, absolutely worth saving. We are alive within mystery, by miracle.”

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Dickens: The Mind of A Murderer

(A morbid tale.)

This is a morbid tale, and may contain spoilers.  For those of you who are reading or planning on reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, and don’t want anything spoiled, I would suggest skipping this post.

Have you ever wondered about the mind of a murderer?  I’ve always assumed the same thing for each case: the murderer, deep deep down inside, felt a tinge of guilt… and his conscience plagued him, of course, even if he didn’t necessarily regret it.  Though Charles Dickens never murdered anybody, and could never really see into the mind of a murderer, he lent a new perspective to me.

In Our Mutual Friend, this is basically what happens.  Eugene Wrayburn is a lawyer who’s never had a purpose in life.  He’s never wanted a purpose, and he always gets bored… and he continues in a perpetual state of boredom… until he meets Lizzie Hexam.  She changes his life, though she his exact opposite.  Though he’s well above her station, Lizzie begins to love Eugene because she sees his purposelessness, and she wants to give him a purpose… help him find one, through her interest, help him become interested.  Eugene, always doubting himself because of his Boredom, doesn’t know whether he really truly loves her or not.

Enter school master: Bradley Headstone.  He meets Lizzie, and immediately falls in love with her.  Here is compared the difference between two loves: Eugene is hesitant to admit his, for he would never want to do her any harm, and he is only interested in doing what is good for her. (Sure proof of love.)  The schoolmaster becomes inflamed with passion for her.  He also sees her undoubted love for Eugene, and this maddens him.  The thought consumes him, the passion eats away his sense of right from wrong.  He hurriedly proposes, and is rejected.  Almost makes her accept by force, but finally goes away.

The premise is, after Lizzie leaves to escape this man’s terrible passion, Eugene tries to find her, and Bradley follows him.  Lizzie and Eugene have an interview, in which they both confess their love for each other, but the awful fact that they can never, never be married.  Most of it is the class difference, the other part is the passion of Bradley Headstone.  Lizzie fears for Eugene’s safety, and begs him to go and never come again, but the entire scene is spied upon by Bradley Headstone.  As soon as Lizzie leaves, Bradley mutilates the body of Eugene with an oar and throws him in the river.  Eugene is saved, but it is believed he will die.  Unsettled in spirit, Eugene makes one last request: that Lizzie would be his wife ere he died.  And there, upon the death bed, Lizzie and Eugene are united… and she must help him put her ring on her finger, because he’s too weak and hurt to do it himself.  And they watch the sun rise together.

The next chapter began to delve into Bradley Headstone’s mind.  I settled down and thought, “O, here’s where we deal with the guilt. Woe to you, Bradley Headstone.”  But oh no, something quite different.  The thought plagued him, the scene embittered him.  Why? Well… Was Eugene really dead? Had he done it the best way? It wasn’t perfect… he should have done this, altered this, made it less dramatic, made it quicker… etc.  I was shocked.  Was this the mind of a murderer? I thought there was remorse?  But I wonder, did I have any reason to think there would be remorse?  Had I ever hated to such an extreme, or experienced that kind of passion to such an extent?  No, I haven’t.  Bradley Headstone’s hate and passion went so far, that no remorse, no grief lingered behind.  In the end, his conscience was dead, he was lost, he could not be brought back.  In this I experienced something else: the awful sense of hopelessness. I felt that there was no hope for him, absolutely none.  People might try to bring him back out of this, but nothing could ever heal him.  He was hopelessly gone, and no amount of hope could bring him back.  Is this what the mind of someone God-forsaken looks like?

I know that in C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity he talks about how man always has a sense of right and wrong… It’s like the moral code, underneath everything there’s a conscience, something that tells right from wrong and plagues you if you do the wrong thing.  But Bradley Headstone had none of that.  I’ve always wondered, if Lewis’ theory was correct, where did that leave the Indians, or the cannibals, who felt absolutely no remorse at killing/eating the people that came their way?  Wasn’t that wrong?  Why didn’t they feel guilty? But who can tell? I’ve never been an Indian, and I’ve never been a murderer.

Who was right? Dickens, or Lewis? I’m not saying I believe one or the other, but Dickens presents a dark, lost, forsaken side.  It’s morbid, it’s horrific, and it’s evil.  Lewis present a side that’s “good but gone a bit wrong, with the ability to do right.”  But it seemed as though Bradley Headstone couldn’t do right he was so lost beyond healing.

What about the people today?  Mothers are horrified when their children come home from school or from anywhere and start swearing.  If they aren’t Christians, or “religious,” why are they horrified?  Because it’s not appropriate to swear? Well, why not?  It presents a bad view of your family? Well, why? WHY?  It eventually gets back to the fact that long, long ago, Christ set an example for use.  God set down the rules.  We aren’t supposed to take His name in vain, we are supposed to treat everybody with respect, “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth,” etc.  That’s where it originated, and it’s been passed down through the years, but the reason has become antiquated, and lost.  Some people swear and “do all the bad things” without feeling guilty in the least. It’s natural to them. But a Christian would be horrified, wouldn’t he/she?

I’ve never been a murderer, I’ve never been an Indian, I’ve never been a “swearer.”  I cannot tell you if there is a conscience in any one of them, I can’t tell you whether Dickens or Lewis was right.  I would lean towards Dickens, because I do believe that God has forsaken some.  The “wicked” to be exact.  And if there is any such thing as a God-forsaken mind, then I think Dickens represented it in a horrifyingly true nature.

For the record, Bradley Headstone, in the end of the book, wraps his arms around a man he tried to blame the murder on, and jumps into the river.  They both drown.  This is after he hears of the marriage of Lizzie and Eugene, and Eugene’s decided progress in health.

a glimmer of hope


“For the Lord will not cast off forever;

but, though he cause grief,

He will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love,

For he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of man.” – Lamentations 3:31-33

God’s mercies are new every morning… every evening.  It comes in things that we don’t soak in every day—like the sunset or sunrise, marking the close or beginning of a new day.

“Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;

he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.” – Pslam 112:4

The sun never sets without the hope of a dawn.  We never go to bed anxious that morning might never come.  God has given us this hope. Though darkness may come, the sun is sure to rise again. “Beyond this labyrinth of darkness, there is a realm of light.”  We must trod patiently through the darkness to gain the light.  And during that time, God’s mercy never leads us.  It constantly comes as strength to bear each new trial.

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out like calves leaping from the stall.” – Malachi 4:2

When calves have been shut up in a stall for a few days, and they are let out, they are “fresh,” meaning that they have a burst of strength and energy.  That’s why I love this verse… It promises healing after a tribulation.  A healing that doesn’t come and leave us healed yet weak, but strong, and enabled to do the work of the kingdom.