Saturday, August 21, 2010

August 21: Saint Pius X

Two days before I start to teach for the fall semester at the university.  The weather has been swerving from grey and raining to cool and sunny to humid and hot all weekend.  It is the end of summer, even though there's still two weeks of August left.  These last days of summer always fill me with melancholy.  I know, I know.  No big surprise.  I usually spend this time planning and preparing the next three months of work for myself.  Read this book this week.  Papers to grade the next week.  Quizzes to create that day.  Reading journals to review the following weekend.  I am no longer free to do what I want.  I have obligations, 50 students depending on me.  Lesson plans.  Schedules.  Deadlines.  Less day.  More night.  Basically, everything that is the opposite of May, June, July, and August.  And don't even get me started on Christmas music and programs at church.  Yes, it starts this early.  You thought Wal-Mart was bad.

It doesn't help that I just started rereading Cormac McCarthy's The Road for class, which is one of the coldest, bleakest novels ever written.  The first time I read it, I was sitting by a pool in the middle of July during a heat wave, and I still found myself getting chilled.  If you haven't read the novel, you should.  It's one of my favorites.  It's about a father and son trying to reach the Pacific Ocean in post-apocalypse America.  They're starving and desperate.  They encounter bands of cannibals who capture and keep people like livestock, harvesting them for food.  The father and son have a handgun with one bullet for protection.  Oh, and the father is dying of some ailment that causes fits of bloody coughing.  This all takes place in a landscape of charred trees and baked earth, where sunlight is a memory and everything and everyone is covered in grey ash.  Constant snow and rain.

So, throw that uplifting piece of literature on top of my already end-of-summer melancholia, and you have the recipe for a pretty shitty day.  I know I should feel blessed in my life.  I mean, I'm an English major with advanced degrees, and I have jobs that don't require me to run a deep fryer.  Let's make it even simpler:  I have jobs that allow me to pay my bills.  In this economy, that's pretty damn good.  I'm feeling sorry for myself when some people I know don't have the money to make their next house payment.  That's pretty fucked up.

I used to look forward to fall and winter, the shortening of the days, the long reach of the night.  I waited for the maple leaves to turn yellow and orange, the evenings to ice the throat when you breathe.  I've always been a lover of the dark.  That may shock some of you.  I never opened windows or curtains in my house.  I was the neighborhood Boo Radley, with kids walking by my property and whispering stories about the crazy English professor who only comes out under the cover of darkness.

Nowadays, I look forward to those long summer days, when the sun is in the sky at 5 a.m. and sticks around until nearly 11 at night.  I like the bright heat, opening windows and airing out the dead moats of autumn and winter.  I crave those dog days when just shifting in a chair from one ass cheek to another can make you break a sweat.  The thing is, in the hot months, I don't have to do anything that makes me sweat.  School's out, and, aside from punching the clock at my second job, I have the freedom to  That freedom comes to a close tomorrow.

I don't do well with things ending, especially things that I've enjoyed, like vacations or friendships or movies or books.  It's a selfish impulse, wanting a happiness to continue forever.  In his last will and testament, today's saint, Pius X, who was one of the first popes of the 20th century, made the following statement:  "I was born poor, I have lived in poverty, and I wish to die poor."  Maybe, because of my mood, I read those words as meaning poverty of body, mind, and spirit.  Right now, I'm clinging to the happiness of the last month or so.  It has been a time of stability and relative peace in my usually chaotic day-to-day.  I've really enjoyed that.  But usually, when things are going that well, the earth shifts, and I find myself in poverty again.

Poverty is not a bad thing.  It brings you back to the basics, makes you realize what wealth really is.  Wealth has nothing to do with the tangible--money or possessions.  It has everything to do with the intangible (peace, love, security, hope), because the tangible always ends up slipping away, like sea water through your fingers.

Cormac McCarthy writes in The Road, "All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain.  Their birth in grief and ashes.  So, he whispered to the sleeping boy.  I have you."  It's a father cleaving to his son.  A man cleaving to something pure, something sacred, something intangible.  It's the way, I imagine, God cleaves to us.

Through pain.  Through darkness.  In light like summer.  That's unchangeable.  That's wealth.

No comments:

Post a Comment