Friday, July 1, 2016

July 1: Feathers to Lizard Scales, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Something Astounding

When I lose interest in a given bird, I try to renew it by looking at the bird in either of two ways.  I imagine neutrinos passing through its feathers and into its heart and lungs, or I reverse its evolution and imagine it as a lizard.  I see its scaled legs and that naked ring around a shiny eye; I shrink and deplume its feathers to lizard scales, unhorn its lipless mouth, and set it stalking dragonflies, cool-eyed, under a palmetto.  Then I reverse the process once again, quickly; its forelegs unfurl, its scales hatch feathers and soften.  It takes to the air seeking cool forests; it sings songs.  This is what I have on my chimney; it might as well keep me awake out of wonder as rage.

Annie Dillard tries to live in wonder, all the time.  I think that she worries if she starts feeling comfortable with her surroundings, when weather retreats to the background and birdsong becomes white noise.  She forces herself to revise the way she looks at the world.  Makes everything strange and unnatural.  She turns birds into lizards and back again.

I find myself often falling into complacency about my life.  That happens because I am a creature of habit.  In my life, I'm not a fan of surprises.  When I get up in the morning, I need everything planned out.  Pretty much, I know what I'm going to be doing every day of the week.  For example, tomorrow morning, I will be going to the McDonald's in town for breakfast with my wife, son, and sister.  We will stay there for a couple hours.  Then, in the afternoon, I will do some house cleaning, and pick out some music to play at church tomorrow night.  I will go to church, play the pipe organ.  For dinner, pizza with my family.  Then, in the evening, it may be more cleaning or simply reading/watching TV.

Most of my days are like this.  I know what will happen (or what I expect to happen) as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning.  No birds turning into lizards or Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal into Belgium waffles (although I wouldn't be opposed to the latter transformation).  If there are to be any deviations, I need to prepare myself for them.  I like to plan out my deviations so they simply become extensions of my normal day.

If this sounds like a boring way to live, I shall quote the husband of one of my best friends:  "There's nothing wrong with sameness."  I am not Annie Dillard.  I do not set out from my house in the morning looking for adventure.  When I set out from my house in the morning, I do not want to see the sun and moon dirty dancing in the sky.  Or a herd of buffalo charging down the street.  Or a whipped cream tornado.

I do accept mystery into my life.  I believe in miracles.  If I didn't, I don't think I could call myself a true follower of Christ.  There is always the possibility of something astounding, I know.  Last night, my friend John Smolens came to my house to talk about his new novel with my book club.  John has published nine novels in his career.  He's won awards, has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  And whenever I see him, he treats me like an equal.  Talks about how much he loves my weird, Catholic poems.  That astounds me.  It makes me reevaluate myself for a little while.  I turn from a bird to a lizard.

For the moment, Saint Marty doesn't mind having scales.

It takes a lot of effort to deal with wonder . . .

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