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.

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