How did “almost 60” happen? Suddenly in some ways, but here we are and there’s no stopping time. Yet.
I read The Great Divorce when I was an impressionable young, naive and innocent thing. Three parts of it will stick with me forever, and even though the book is a Christian allegory, it’s also full of simple human wisdom that fits no matter what one believes. I want to put it here to remind me of a few important things. The first is this interesting description of hell. In the story, the author is invited to take a trip from hell to heaven. He describes first what he experiences at the bus stop to heaven from the place that he thinks must be hell. A passenger who has been there for a while sits next to him and tries to explain what happens there. What fascinates me still is the idea that we create our own loneliness by withdrawing with each unpleasant human encounter. We are social creatures, meant to love one another, meant to serve each other, help each other, draw strength and energy from our relationships, but often, and instead, we withdraw, become almost hermits and victims to our own very limited view on How Life Is. Here is the passage that meant so much to me:
“It seems the deuce of a town,” I volunteered, “and that’s what I can’t understand. The parts of it that I saw were so empty. Was there once a much larger population?”
“Not at all,” said my neighbour . “The trouble is that they’re so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbour . Before the week is over he’s quarrelled so badly that he decides to move. Very like he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbours -and moved. So he settles in. If by any chance the street is full, he goes further. But even if he stays, it makes no odds. He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he’ll move on again. Finally he’ll move right out to the edge of the town and build a new house. You see, it’s easy here. You’ve only got to think a house and there it is. That’s how the town keeps on growing.” “Leaving more and more empty streets?” “That’s right. And time’s sort of odd here. That place where we caught the bus is thousands of miles from the Civic Centre where all the newcomers arrive from earth. All the people you’ve met were living near the bus stop: but they’d taken centuries-of our time-to get there, by gradual removals.”
“And what about the earlier arrivals? I mean -there must be people who came from earth to your town even longer ago.”
“That’s right. There are. They’ve been moving on and on. Getting further apart. They’re so far off by now that they could never think of coming to the bus stop at all. Astronomical distances. There’s a bit of rising ground near where I live and a chap has a telescope. You can see the lights of the inhabited houses, where those old ones live, millions of miles away. Millions of miles from us and from one another. Every now and then they move further still. That’s one of the disappointments. I thought you’d meet interesting historical characters. But you don’t: they’re too far away.”
“Would they get to the bus stop in time, if they ever set out?”
“Well-theoretically. But it’d be a distance of light-years. And they wouldn’t want to by now: not those old chaps like Tamberlaine and Genghis Khan, or Julius Caesar, or Henry the Fifth.”
“Wouldn’t want to?”
“That’s right. The nearest of those old ones is Napoleon. We know that because two chaps made the journey to see him. They’d started long before I came, of course, but I was there when they came back. About fifteen thousand years of our time it took them. We’ve picked out the house by now. Just a little pin prick of light and nothing else near it for millions of miles.”
“But they got there?”
“That’s right. He’d built himself a huge house all in the Empire style-rows of windows flaming with light, though it only shows as a pin prick from where I live.” “Did they see Napoleon?” “That’s right. They went up and looked through one of the windows. Napoleon was there all right.” “What was he doing?” “Walking up and down-up and down all the time-left-right, left-right-never stopping for a moment. The two chaps watched him for about a year and he never rested. And muttering to himself all the time. ‘It was Soult’s fault. It was Ney’s fault. It was Josephine’s fault. It was the fault of the Russians. It was the fault of the English.’ Like that all the time. Never stopped for a moment. A little, fat man and he looked kind of tired. But he didn’t seem able to stop it.”
The second passage represents quite the opposite kind of example. The author has now arrived at heaven’s bus stop and describes a woman he sees coming from the hills. When I read this passage as an 18-year old girl, I decided to do my best to be this woman. I have always believed, then and now, that simple acts make a much bigger impact than we realize, that acts of love are immensely powerful, that there is tremendous beauty found in the act of simply living our lives to the best of our ability, even when our best falls so obviously short, and especially when we pick ourselves up and try another day to conduct our lives in a better way than we managed the day before. I want to be this woman, I’ve always wanted to be this woman, and for the rest of my life I’ll endeavor to be this woman:
“First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.
I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.
But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.
“Is it?…is it?” I whispered to my guide.
“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
“And who are these gigantic people…look! They’re like emeralds…who are dancing and throwing flowers before here?”
“Haven’t ye read your Milton? A thousand liveried angels lackey her.”
“And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?”
“No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.”
“And how…but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat-two cats-dozens of cats. And all those dogs…why, I can’t count them. And the birds. And the horses.”
“They are her beasts.”
“Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much.”
“Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”
I looked at my Teacher in amazement.
“Yes,” he said. “It is like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough int the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.”
I love that last idea, so I’ll repeat it. It’s like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end? This works for hatred and unreconciled “issues” as well as acts of love and grace, so why not choose love and grace? I know that much of this blog focuses on my hurts and annoyances, but that’s life for me. As I lose this weight, it seems I uncover issues I didn’t deal with completely, so I put them here, look at them, then allow you to look at them too. Then with a POOF! I blow them into the air, as if each memory was made of ashes all along. They are powerless once exposed, and I become lighter, both metaphorically and physically. It’s an amazing journey! It isn’t for cowards, though. Phew! I end some days feeling completely exhausted.
On to more down to earth things: I bought a pair of boots online that I thought would fit me, but I am plagued with cankles that are epically horrible. I am also blessed with fatty fat, the fattest of the fat legs, and then, as if to make things as bad as possible, they are short legs. Short, fat, and stubby legs. Ugh. The boots didn’t even come close to fitting my fatty cankled short stubs. Jim, sweet and supportive man that he’s desperately trying to be, suggested that they will eventually fit me and I should just keep them, but I want to send them back. They sit on my bedroom dresser reminding me that I’m “less than” I could be and I have such a horribly long way to go. I know I could view that box as a challenge, but I don’t, and probably won’t, so they are going back this week.
I had a dream that I wasn’t losing weight, and who knows? Maybe I’m not. Heck if I really know because I still refuse to step on a scale. You know what else I haven’t lost? My hair! Most weight loss surgery patients go through a phase of intense hair loss, but that hasn’t happened to me and I am so relieved! I will take that slower but (I hope to believe) steady weight loss.
This weekend included a birthday party and I survived just fine. I said no to cake and ice cream and didn’t even weep. I ate a few “off the grid” foods, but not enough to hurt the diet. This weekend also included an abysmal failure. Jim and I went out for coffee Sunday morning. He bought two “Morning Glory” muffins for both of us and I had a sugar free latte, breve. One of my doctors says that fat free milk is the devil himself and says to have real cream or half and half in a latte. Another doctor says fat free milk is perfectly fine and it’s better to avoid the high fat content of the cream. Doctor #1 says that our bodies metabolize the cream in such a way, especially if we avoid carbs (which I do avoid) and sugars (which are carbs, so duh) that the cream is actually healthy for us. Doctor #2 says that all milk and cheese products should be avoided and I should concentrate on vegetables, fruits and non-processed, organic foods.
It’s all confusing because each expert believes their advice passionately, so I’ve been trying to find what works best for me. Sunday I discovered that a creamy breve drink, when combined with a Morning Glory muffin is not such a good idea. Ever heard of Dumping Syndrome? (You do know that these colored words are links, don’t you?) Yeah. That happened, and oh man! It was horrible! I had to, and I mean HAD TO stop somewhere and fast. I spied a Starbucks, managed to pull into the parking lot and walk inside the shop without a disaster, but the women’s bathroom was LOCKED! The men’s room was not and so I went inside and locked the door, hoping that there wouldn’t be some man standing next to the door when I eventually came out.
I survived the experience, but almost didn’t. I won’t be having breve lattes ever again, and it’s likely I’ll stay away from Morning Glory muffins too. There is too much sugar, even if they are full of fruity goodness and even if the Mayo Clinic recommends them. Because ugh!
Okay then, Monday Morning! It’s time to get on to the rest of this day. Interestingly enough (or should this be considered ironic?) I am making Morning Glory muffins this afternoon to give to our neighbors as a “we appreciate living in your neighborhood” offering. It’s Jim’s idea and he went to the store to buy the ingredients we didn’t already have on hand. They’re full of apples, pineapple, carrots, walnuts, coconut, and raisins.
Also, the short story writing will continue. I am killing off a complicated character in a beautifully ironic way and will enter it in a short short story contest, because why not, right?
Right? Happy Monday!