Thursday, July 11, 2013

Happy Birthday, Frederick Buechner

Today, July 11, is the birthday of the great novelist and essayist Frederick Buechner. I have been known to devour his writings, from his "doubter's dictionary" Whistling in the Dark to his heartbreaking novelization of the patriarchs, Son of Laughter. He turns eighty-seven today, and we should all blow him a nice kiss.

Buechner's midsummer birthday is as good an occasion for me to repost the following, my reflection on yardwork commingled with his reflection on one of the seven deadly sins. This was originally posted to my now-retired blog Strangely Dim in 2005. I hope you enjoy it, and if this is your first taste of Freddy Buechner's writing, well then, you're welcome.


Chez Lounge

The other night I was driving home and saw a neighbor doing something that I absolutely hate doing, and yet I was jealous of him. He was sitting comfortably on a chair on his sidewalk spraying his lawn. He had achieved serenity, shalom, nirvana, whatever you want to call it. Even his labor was leisure.

Let me clarify: I don't hate sitting comfortably, I hate spraying my lawn. It smacks of waste and futility--waste because I'm doing what God meant for rain to do, futility because grass withers in my presence. Right now I'm watering twice a day everyday because our wildflower garden, which supplanted our above-ground pool, has been supplanted by what we hope will one day soon be grass. It's a faint hope, though, since I killed the pool and wrecked the wildflower garden.

As a result, most of my thoughts while watering are occupied not with hope but with grumblings of how I might otherwise spend my time. I could be writing or serving the poor, although more likely I'd be quoting the Lemonheads: "What if something's on TV and it's never on again?" On the surface of things, to be condemned to sit in a chair watering my lawn for the rest of eternity would be, for me, like an eternity of wailing and grinding teeth. I looked at that guy in his khaki shorts and his long black socks and his fishing cap and Hawaiian shirt, and I thought, That dude is lazy. But then I thought, That dude is lucky.

I'm reminded of Frederick Buechner, whose definition of sloth is hanging on the wall of my office, just high enough that I don't have to see it every day:

Sloth is not to be confused with laziness. A lazy man, a man who sits around and watches the grass grow, may be a man of peace. His sun-drenched, bumblebee dreaming may be the prelude to action or itself an act well worth the acting. A slothful man, on the other hand, may be a very busy man. He is a man who goes through the motions, who flies on automatic pilot. Like a man with a bad head cold, he has mostly lost his sense of taste and smell. He knows something's wrong with him, but not wrong enough to do anything about. Other people come and go, but through glazed eyes he hardly notices them. He is letting things run their course. He is getting through his life.
So if that guy's lazy, then I'm a ten-toed sloth.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Farewell to a Beloved Pet

Yesterday my wife and I said goodbye to our dear cat Lacey. She's been with us for fifteen years; when I first met her she fit in my palm. Since then she's endeared herself to us with her impossibly long meows, and she's habitually sat in our laps long past the point of convenience. She's always been funny in an awkward sort of way, hiding herself from our friends and family but being her whole self unreservedly with us.

We discovered a couple of months ago that Lacey had cancer, and while she'd been bearing up well since then, she'd lost a lot of weight and had a little less life in her eyes every day. Yesterday morning I called the vet; that afternoon we took her to the clinic and returned home without her.

I've never said goodbye to a pet, mainly because I didn't really have pets till after I was married. We had fish in my house when I was growing up, but fish occupy their own universe; we observe fish, moreso than abiding with them. Lacey and I, by contrast, occupied the same space. We've grown older together; we've moved together from one home to another; we've endured sickness and health and trouble and trial together. My wife and I will miss her; I find it a little hard, quite honestly, to imagine my mornings without her.

Nearly fifteen years ago I first came across a prayer by theologian Stanley Hauerwas, included in his brief book Prayers Plainly Spoken, that he wrote in remembrance of his cat Tuck. I've offered it to friends over the years as they've said goodbye to their pets. I adapt it here for my own benefit, my way of saying goodbye.

Passionate Lord,

By becoming one of us, you revealed your unrelenting desire to have us love you. As we were created for such love, you have made us to love your creation and through such love, such desire, learn to love you. We believe every love we have you have given us.

Lacey's love of us, and our love of her, is a beacon, a participation, in your love of all your creation. We thank you, we sing your praise, for the wonderful life of this cat. Her generosity, her enthusiasm, her naivete, her timidity, her patience, her presence--these qualities and others made us better, made our love for one another better, made us better love you.

We will miss her. Help us not fear remembering her, confident that the sadness such memory brings is bounded by the joy that Lacey existed and, with us, is part of your glorious creation, a harbinger of your peaceable kingdom.