One of the most shocking ways ways we can get insight into our lives is to have somebody close to us make a matter-of-fact observation or comment that is so incongruent with our internal vision of ourselves that it sounds as though the comment were about some stranger. Rebekah, wife, love of my life, bearer of my churlin...this post’s for you.
Talking about jobs and careers and that kind of thing Rebekah said something to the effect that she could not imagine me spending any time whatsoever in a scholarly setting. In as many words, “I can’t see you spending your time reading or studying for a living.” It wasn’t meant as any kind of a dig or really even a note of commentary. For her it was a statement of factual observation about as deep as “you would make a poor hair model” but it popped me in the mouth in a way that made me think, “just how DO you see me?”
I wanted to point to the house and a half full of books I brought to our marriage. Shelves overflowing with classics, epics and poetry; Shakespeare and Mallory, Homer and Plato. I wanted to tell her of the days and weeks spent squatting between shelves in Just Browsing or B.Daltons with Jeremy O’Kelly, or the inappropriate sums of money spent on leather bound Easton Press editions of literature’s great works. Surely my love of words and language (and the love of study that implied) was manifest in our own flesh and blood – Odin’s obvious and oft-noted verbal acuity – must suggest a scholarly pursuit has SOME believability!
But then I thought of the dust. The piles of books that sit in #3 unshuffled and undisturbed since we moved them there nine years ago. I realize that I’ve probably read fewer than six books a year since we’ve married and most of those have been non-fiction and very specific to the spiritual journey of the last several years. Good books to be sure (most of them anyway) and profitable...but nary an epic or romance in the mix. In short I realize that despite certain indications that I may have once been somewhat scholarly there is no hint of it left in 2009 Chris.
Re’s comment is reinforced by the (non-fiction) book I’m reading now, The Narnian. It’s an odd kind of biography of CS Lewis in that it’s really more about his mental and spiritual development than it is about the events in his life. And by the end of chapter four I’m watching a precocious young man, who at four tells his family that he will no longer be called Clive but will only respond to Jacksie, come to conclude that the bookish life is the only one he’s suited for. In watching Lewis I’m reminded of a part of me that’s been put on hold for many years now, a part that loves nothing better than the smell of yellowing paper; a part that would sip tea and crack leather spines in cold, silent, upstairs libraries for days on end hoping only to avoid being disturbed.
In the years between high school and the Navy I saw parts of me making a certain kind of pact. I wanted to study at a certain kind of liberal arts school but I knew I’d never afford it. So I decided I’d join the Army and get school money from them. There was a certain Faustian angle to the whole thing, and only a few weeks before I was set to ship out Dead Poet’s Society came out and the romantic/ivory tower part of me rose up in protest. I went back to the Army and said, “On second thought, I’m not the right guy for this.” In hindsight it’s remarkable that they were willing to cancel my contract but only 18 months later I was enlisted in the Navy. I was basically willing to sell my body (soul and mind remain with me thankyouverymuch) for four years in order to go to school someplace with ivy on old brick buildings. It’s an interesting parallel with Lewis as well. As he’s approaching the end of high school WWI is in full tilt and he decides that he will join the army and postpone Oxford.
...sorry, off on a tangent I think.
In my mind, that part of me has never even come close to dying but Rebekah’s comment makes me suddenly and painfully aware that in ten years of marriage it might as well be that she’s never met that Chris if indeed she even suspects his existence. Still, I’m not willing to say that the last ten years have somehow been a mistake by that yardstick, only occupied with other things...mostly really good things that have awakened and cultivated other parts of me that are now integral parts of my personality but would likely stayed latent if I’d gone full-bore into the whole academia thing.
More to the point, her observation comes at a time when I think that side of me is feeling a little neglected and put off. A time when I feel like God is fanning some long dormant coals though I hadn’t realized what was happening until I’ve just now started to think about it.
A dusty leather-bound pat of my heart misses long silent afternoons filled with nothing but reading and reflection and I’m sensing that maybe life will be shifting to make that more possible once again. Perhaps more than anything I miss the peacefulness of the life of the mind, though I confess the solitude runs a short second and that seems generally incompatible with small children. The last several years have been a lot of things, peaceful isn’t one of them.
Rebekah, for the record – a few years of reading, walking and writing sounds to me like one of the best possible things to me right now though I realize you have no reason to believe me save my assertion.