Friday, October 14, 2011

It's Not You, It's Me

Yes, that line that "Seinfeld" immortalized: I'm using it as the heading of a post,

In which I tell the world, and, what's more important, the valued readers of this blog, that I've been somewhat under the weather in recent days, and sensing that I may not always be giving the best that I can give to this blog--and to email communications from various readers, which I cherish and will reply to, when I recover a bit of strength.

If I seem to be ignoring any of your messages, please know that's not the case, but that I'm finding the struggle to keep up with doctoring both time- and energy-consuming, and have had to curtail a number of valuable activities (email being one of them) just to keep up with the demands of a clunky old body.  Demands I rather resent, but there you are: they simply present themselves as we age, bodies being what they are--the indispensable repository of spirit as long as spirit expects a presence in this world, which nonetheless blow gaskets and malfunction in various ways as we try to keep them disposed to spirit in the world.

There was a time in my life when I imagined that, if I did have the opportunity to grow old, I'd grow old sweetly, pliantly, with increased wisdom and compassion and understanding of everyone in the world.  And as I actually am now growing old, I find I'm just growing old.  Period.  All the rest isn't magically coming along with the bargain.  

Instead of becoming the tart, wizened apple mellowed to dulcet tones by time and winter winds, I find I'm merely remaining tart.  Tart and wizened both, a gauche and rather unappealing combination.  Old without sufficient sweetness, pliability, wisdom, compassion, and understanding--though I live in hope that the God who makes an ass speak and water flow from a rock can do something with a bitter apple, even in that apple's withered old days.

I was thinking of all of this during the night, as I tossed and turned from aches that make sleep less than ideal these days, and remembered a story some Carmelite friends of mine told me years ago--a story that, in a curious way, seems to relate both to my present experience of growing older but not wiser, and to the spiritual challenges that this recognition presents.  Here's the story.  Make of it what you will:

In their Carmel, my friends were sitting one day at recreation, sewing.  And as they sewed, they talked about putting the old man to death.  Unbeknownst to them, the old man who did garden work for them (and how that could have been in a cloister, I never understood) was snipping a hedge outside the window of their recreation room, and when he heard his beloved nun-employers talking about putting the old man to death, he naturally freaked out.

Because he was the only old man anywhere in sight inside the enclosure of the Carmel walls, and so knew they had to be talking about him.  And his terror was helped in no way at all by the fact that he had seen the skull the nuns kept on a sideboard in their refectory, to remind them of death--a skull that they had told him came from a member of the Carmel, whose head was saved and boiled at her death to remove the flesh and to produce the reminder of death that now sat grinning in the dining room.  Where several nuns would say as they passed it, "I'd know that smile anywhere!"

The recreating, embroidering nuns were, of course, discussing the conundrum of putting their own old man to death, so that the new man of Christ could rise inside them.  But how was the real old man in the garden to know any of this, when he inhabited a religious world that did not include veiled nuns living inside walls with grates between them and the world and skulls of sister nuns grinning from sideboards?

Catholicism is a curious religion at best, is it not?  Even when its ideals seem admirable and applicable to the world in which most of us live every day.  Catholicism seems intent on remaining a world of bizarre recrudescences always waiting to pop out of curial closets all over again, just when one had imagined they'd been safely and thankfully tucked out of sight forever, because we'd decided that having the appearance of sanity and relevance might just possibly be points in our favor if we expect to be taken seriously when we talk about the spiritual, moral, and doctrinal wares we try to hawk in the contemporary world.

But this I will say: Catholicism and its strange recrudescences do give a body something to think about, when said body is sick abed.  Sick abed where, thankfully, this particular clunky old machine of a body does seem to be improving daily, with the little tortures the doctor recommends to combat the tortures of the illness itself.

And isn't that one of the curious features of the way in which God has designed the world--that pain is often the remedy for pain?  One would have thought otherwise, intuitively.  But that's the subject for a whole other boring blog post about nothing much at all!

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