They had always been so careful of him, almost afraid to touch him. There was an aloofness about him more thoroughgoing than modesty or reticence. It was feral, and fragile. It had enforced a peculiar decorum on them all, even on their mother. There was always the moment when they acknowledged this–no hugging, no roughhousing could include him. Even his father patted his shoulder tentatively, shy and cautious. Why should a child have defended his loneliness that way? But let him have his ways, their father said, or he would be gone. He’d smile at them across that distance, and the smile was sad and hard, and it meant estrangement, even when he was with them.
– from Home by Marilynne Robinson, 2008
This selection is only one of the ways Marilynne Robinson wins my heart through her characterization. Here she is describing Jack, a prodigal son come home during the last bit of his father’s life. Home with him, and taking care of their father, is his sister Glory. Both brother and sister are revealed slowly, satisfyingly, and lovingly. Home has a plot, of course, but I like to think the book is more about who the characters are. The reader delves deeply into their lives, their histories, and their thoughts. I have been reading stories by the Bronte sisters lately, and they do characterization so well, too. It is my favorite thing about reading: meeting new people, and learning about them so much more intimately than I can learn about my own friends through conversation.
I follow a blog called Samuel at Gilgal. The blogger posts short quotes from great Reformationists. Today’s post was entitled Preparing for Heaven, taken from something written by J.C. Ryle. He says we must be holy, heavenly-minded, on earth in order to be prepared for the glories of heaven. I wonder, then, what I have done today to be holy. There is the obvious answer: I read from my Bible. I prayed. Tonight, I sang some hymnbook songs at the piano after the kids were in bed (hoping the ones not sleeping would find it lullaby-like). I finished with the song “Take Time To Be Holy,” so you can see the issue is important to me right now.
A not-so-obvious answer: I fulfilled my earthly tasks of mothering and wifing (spell check should consider adding that word), and I don’t think I did it with a complaining heart.
I can see if I write more I will start sounding proud and self-righteous, so I’ll stop. What I’m really wondering now… how could I be more holy throughout the day? I think the key is to stop forgetting God. It sounds terrible, but I do forget. I go about living and try to conquer life by myself. To be more holy I need to stop and pray. The ongoing-conversation-with-God-in-my-head type of praying. I think if I could remember God more, I could remember to pray for peace when I’m upset, wisdom when I’m at a loss, love when I’m irritated, forgiveness when I’ve screwed up. I think I will begin by praying for help to remember. And I’ll be looking forward to the next life when I will never ever forget God.
A Picnic in Stoneleigh Park, Thomas Baker (1809-1864)
Today was a picnic day. Big fluffy clouds. Temperatures in the lower 70s. That lazy feeling that says you musn’t exert yourself. Therefore, the children and I went on a picnic in a nearby park. We even went on a nature walk, which was not lazy. I had to keep us all moving or we would have been lifted up and carried off by the mosquitoes. However, once we were home, we still did not exert ourselves much. I did not wash windows or mop the floor. I did not even change the lightbulb that needs changing. We read books together, we played outside, we sat with the purring cat. The children cut pictures out of magazines and made a grand shredded mess. I read several devotions (to make up for days I didn’t read them). I read a chapter or two from the parenting book I have available in the kitchen. I chose not to read recipe books. And just now, I perused online artwork galleries to find a lovely picnic picture to fit my mood today. I had never heard of Thomas Baker, but now I know he was English, and he painted pretty landscapes. I don’t think he was lazy. According to Wikipedia, he was very organized and catalogued his work, which numbered 800+. Well, I’m grateful for people who work hard so others can pursue the occasional do-nothing day.
I don’t buy every book I want to read. In fact, I don’t buy many things on a whim. But when Wiseblood Books announced the publication of its first book of poetry, I almost bought it instantly. I held back a month or so, and then, when I needed ten or so more dollars to reach Amazon’s $35 free shipping, I slipped Cave Art by Charles Hughes into my cart. When it arrived (it was a Wednesday, around 11:00 am) I put it prominently on the table (I had to make dinner yet). I don’t remember exactly what the children were doing, but I somehow finished the book before supper of that day. I announced this fact to the children excitedly. My six-year-old begged me to read him some of it. I read him the poem about the poisoned raccoon. But this following poem is one of my favorites. An insider look into a marriage that has weathered the seasons. I’m happy for Mr. and Mrs. Hughes.
Hostas die back, don’t simply die. The first
Hard frost, I rake their raggedy leaves gone pale
And crooked, though the fall’s been wet. You call me
To come indoors for lunch in your young voice–
A memory partly, partly a wish rehearsed
For years, for our long love. I’d sing you summer
And warm June rain, but we both know the yard’s
Deciduous lei of limes, green-golds, blue-greens,
The roots now burning with a perennial thirst.
Find out more about Cave Art and Charles Hughes here.
I’ve been a little bored with my blog lately. I plan on continuing the short posts about art and literature because it is good for me to keep my nose in those areas of culture. My About page says the third aspect of Revision 3 is looking again at a quiet life. These “talky” posts will be more of that.
I took the kids to Grandma’s house this afternoon and took myself to the Horicon Marsh walking trails. I needed some peace. My oldest child has an argumentative nature. The middle child wants to know the details of every single thing I’m doing. The third child has been having a tough time getting over a bad cold, and she has become clingy. I gain energy from quiet and solitude and lose energy from interacting with people. This walk in the marsh by myself seemed very necessary. I enjoyed the beauty of nature, turning my thoughts toward God’s goodness and being able to trust him. Trust came to mind because halfway down the path I realized I left my cell phone in the car, and the marsh trails are far removed from law enforcement and abductions have occurred on them. God did preserve me. I only met up with one other person, a woman on a walk, like me. And if there had been abductors crouching in the marsh grass, they are now in serious pain from wild parsnip burns. I’ve never seen so much wild parsnip! By the end of my walk, I was hot, sweaty, red in the face, and feeling good. I can’t say I was ready to face the children with a completely unweary attitude, but I do have the memories of that time alone with God and His creation, and I do have that much-needed exercise under my belt, and I might even have the resolve to quit drinking so much Mountain Dew and drink more water instead. We’ll see about that one tomorrow. I’d been using Mountain Dew as an anti-depressant, and it is addicting. Somehow I even got my husband drinking it–he who normally calls it “toilet water.”
The girls are in the bathtub, having way too much fun. I should take off my socks and wade into the bathroom to wash their hair.
I think I will enjoy these new types of posts. I can unwind in words.
He went off by himself, vaguely, in a childish way, seeking for the clue to ‘luck’. Absorbed, taking no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth, seeking inwardly for luck. He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it. When the two girls were playing dolls in the nursery, he would sit on his big rocking-horse, charging madly into space, with a frenzy that made the little girls peer at him uneasily. Wildly the horse careered, the waving dark hair of the boy tossed, his eyes had a strange glare in them. The little girls dared not speak to him.
When he had ridden to the end of his mad little journey, he climbed down and stood in front of his rocking-horse, staring fixedly into its lowered face. Its red mouth was slightly open, its big eye was wide and glassy-bright.
“Now!” he would silently command the snorting steed. “Now take me to where there is luck! Now take me!”
–from “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
Luck is one of those words that make me uncomfortable when used flippantly. Lots of people use it; I even catch myself saying “Good luck” or “It’s lucky.” I don’t believe there is luck. This story, however, is about a boy who wants to find luck so he can help his mother who always needs more money. He finds luck, too, sometimes. While wildly riding a rocking-horse which he has outgrown, the name of the race-horse that will win the next derby comes to his mind. The boy, his uncle, and a race-loving gardener become partners and make money on the boy’s lucky predictions. The story ends ironically with a big win and a brain fever that ends in the boy’s death. The reader is left wondering if the boy is lucky after all. And the mother, who has gained the money she wants, no longer has her son. Is she lucky?
I like this story because it confronts the concept of luck and shows that what appears to be luck is really only one part of the story. D.H. Lawrence fleshes out the other parts of the story with grim exactness so that luck might just be the flash of something bright in a person’s eye.
Raising the Liberty Pole, 1776, engraved by John C. McRae, 1875
The liberty pole is still standing. There may be people moaning about the decline of America. There might be some people who want our government to control our freedoms. But ever since 1776 the United States of America has been a free country, independent of other countries. That is something worth celebrating.