Monday, March 8, 2010
It wasn’t so much the stench that bothered me. It was the cockroaches. We’d met Mr. Francis Perry Myers while knocking on doors in his trailer park, looking for people who were interested in learning more about our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His trailer was ancient and collapsing; its once white walls were crusted in grime and yellowed from cigarette smoke except for the dark splotches where Francis had crushed a roach. He complained about them once, saying that they would bite him in his sleep. I don’t know if cockroaches really bite people, but sitting in that filthy trailer watching them scurry freely about, I believed it.
Visiting Francis presented a difficult problem to me. As missionaries, our primary responsibility was to invite people to make specific and positive changes in their lives. Francis had been invited but was not responding. Our duty to him had been fulfilled and our mission rules instructed us to move on to other people who might be more willing. And though that was my primary duty, I didn’t feel like I could just leave Francis and not return. He was alone and I think he was dying—he’d often complain about painful lumps on his stomach and neck. In my situation, I was severely limited as to my ability to help him physically but I could give him my time and my attention. He enjoyed our company well enough, though I struggled to enjoy his.
For, frankly, I did not like visiting Francis. I wish I could say that I had become saintly enough as a missionary to love everyone I saw no matter how they acted or lived. But I didn’t. I hadn’t come to love Francis—it was hard to get past his coarse manner and his gruff and dirty appearance. And this complicated my inner conflict. I saw my distaste as a weakness that should be overcome. I saw leaving Francis as giving into my weaker nature, as taking the easy way out. And thus I was torn between what I knew was my duty, what I felt was my responsibility, and what I saw as my weakness.
I sought a solution through cleaning Francis’ trailer. I had been taught that, if I wished to love someone, I only needed to serve them. And I thought that cleaning Francis’s barely livable home must certainly be the type of sacrificing service that would help me love the man. If I learned to love Francis, my weakness would be overcome, the house cleaning would have make his life a little easier to live, and I could then move on from Francis to missionary duty. The cleaning was indeed a trying ordeal, memorable mostly for the incredible number of roaches and the mounds of shed dog hair. But when I left his trailer that day, I had no more love for Francis than when I arrived. My dilemma persisted.
I never came upon an easy solution to my problem with Francis. I continued to visit him, though less frequently, struggling to find a solution that wouldn’t leave me feeling guilty. The immediate problem was taken away from me two months later when my mission ended and I returned to my home and my life. But the deeper problem remains with me: what’s the answer when there’s no right answer, when what feels right and what the rules say is right are in disagreement?
I’ve since decided my unanswered question is in some ways a solution. The realization that some, if not most, problems have no easy solutions makes me feel like what I was able to do for Francis may have been the best I could have done. Though I’m not satisfied with the way things turned out with Francis, I’m not sure they could have gone any other way. As I’ve thought about learning and practicing the law, my experience with Francis has seemed all the more important—I think the lesson that even the plainest laws may be rendered unsatisfactory by uncommon circumstances is something that I will need to remember as I learn to think about and interpret laws. I’ll admit that my present experience with law is small; I don’t know what type of law I hope to practice or where I expect it to take me. But I know that I will be able to do my best as I let these lessons serve me as I try to serve others.
I think it's kind of weak there at the end when I start moralizing and applying it to the law. But I needed to do something like that.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
isn’t what it used to be.
As a child, a kid, much of your life seems like a failed attempt to stay up until . You know something is happening after you’re sent to bed. Something really, really cool. All the adults and older kids are doing it, which, interestingly, is both the reason you want to stay up and the worst part of not being able to. You don’t get to stay up, but your older brother, that fiend with whom you’re conducting a silent but vicious war for your parent’s attention is getting just a little more one on one time with Mom and Dad. As if he didn’t get enough in those months and years he had all the rabid interest of first time parents. And now that you have made your pink screaming entrance, he’s stealing just a little bit more attention as well as jabbing you in the kidney when no one is looking. Lord of the Flies in my own living room.
And despite the secret price you pay in bruises and twisted nipples, you still can’t stay up past bedtime. You’re kept apart, like the night is some holy mystery, a twisted trinity: you, the supplicating mendicant seeking to partake of the evening’s secret sacraments, your parents, the cowled priest and priestess intent on preserving the sanctity of the evening rites, and , the unknowable, untouchable, unreachable God of the night.
How is it that thou canst change today into tomorrow? Move a month or year into another? Who, oh , can know thy ways?
And while we were never really thinking about our yearning for that pensive hour as some dark theology, it seems that some sort of religious energy should be manifest at the moment of , this time of conversion, when the clocks tick once and tomorrow is born of yesterday. Something should happen to us, or the animals, or the earth. A flash of static across the sky as the machine resets and starts over. Maybe a little blinking cursor in the eastern horizon. The Windows Divine version start-up menu: Run\program\\earthsky. Our hearts should skip. Our breath should catch.
Nothing of the sort. One moment passes into the next. The continuous process that we strive to parse into parcels remains indivisible.
The first I remember of my childhood was a New Years Eve. This carried the weight of a new day, month, and year. There would be fireworks and confetti, a large lighted ball dropping from one meaningless point to another, all signaling a restart, a begin again. Bubbly drinks, pointed hats, and goofy whistle noises. Friends and family gathered together in joint anticipation.
And that was it.
If you weren’t watching with bated breath like we all were, you would have missed it. Well, you would have missed it anyway. We did. There was nothing there. Nothing changed but the clocks. One second was, then wasn’t, dying the little death of moments. And though we tried to seize, with all our cheering and jumping and kissing, that moment that is , that is 12 with nothing but zeros as far as you can go, it was gone before it came, or at least, just as it came, indistinguishable from every second, moment, instant, flash, jiffy, twinkle or whatever that came before.
This was what I had whined and gimmicked and fought for? This is what I had been chasing every night since I first felt the lure of the late evening. There was nothing. Nothing but Jay Leno and David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and two year old action flicks. Ice cream from the freezer and popcorn from the microwave. Ingredients for a general dulling of the mind and fattening of the body—feed for cattle self-confined to the stockyards.
And yet, something remains very attractive, very alluring, about the middle of night. For I still sacrifice to bring myself before that that time that is both latest and earliest, to worship again the dark moment. I give up the light of the morning, the rising sun, the slow tread of dawn just to taste the invisible instant that is the essence of night. Giving it up for what?
And this is, essentially, my complaint: that I (and most likely you) am looking for something in the hidden hours that doesn’t exist, something that I won’t seek in the day’s light. And isn’t all this just so sneaky and furtive? The imagery is all dim and dank back alleys, the corner behind the giant garbage can, up against the slimy and graffitied brick. used to have a reverential majesty, but now my eyes have adjusted to the darkness, and I can see ’s gaunt figure, wrapped in royal robes, grinning from his throne.
And yet, I still bring myself to worship at that dark moment that is both latest and earliest. I give up the light of the morning, the rising sun, the slow tread of dawn just to taste the invisible instant that is the essence of night.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
But on Tuesday and Thursday we walk together all the way to their building. The point of departure is more certain and so we stop and share a real squeeze-and-don't-pat-I-care-about-you hug. We've even decided that we're into saying "I love you" in a friendly non-threatening way (funny that love can be and often is threatening) and share eye contact as we walk away that sometimes seems to linger just a little too long, to that point where you wonder to yourself, "do we mean anything by this eye contact?" but don't know the answer for yourself and won't ever ask them. Then they're gone. Well...not gone. Just in a different place. But gone for me. Consumed.
And now for the first time every Tuesday and Thursday my attention is finally directed toward the world around me. And here, at the break of my day, I sometimes see him. In my mind he's always wearing the same clothes. If I next see him wearing something different than his red plaid shirt and those tight gray jeans that seem intent on squeezing on down his shins I'll be a little crestfallen. But I'll still recognize him. Assuredly. Because of his mustache.
Its really a simple mustache. Thick and droopy, etching his face in a permanent mournful frown. And its a generic brown. Not the type of brown that you some people have on there driver's licenses that apparently has no bearing on reality. His Brown is the kind of brown you imagine when you think of brown bears or brown crayons, the brown that you were taught to recognize in kindergarten.
Okay, you need to do something. To get the same experience I just got, type "mustaches" into the URL in Firefox 3 and squeeze your legs together so you don't pee your pants. Otherwise link.
You should probably squeeze you legs together too.
You are not dreaming. You just experienced that. The song!
Do this for me. Take your fingers and put them on that ridge that connects your nose to the middle of your upper lip (known as the philtrum). Spread them away from each other, following the curvature of you face until your fingers descend below the corners of you mouth. Now picture that entire area as being possessed by a droopy, beast of straight brown hair.
Your probably "ugh"ing to youself. And my first reaction, my break of day turning my attention away from Aurora and Summer, is much the same. But as my astonishment at his appearance has grown into anticipation that I will get to behold him yet again, I've concluded that the mustache is beautiful on him. And I mean this in the full "guy crush" way. It looks right on him. And I'm astonished.
It must show on my face, because I always make eye contact with him and he always seems to be self conscious about my attention. Eye contact that is just a little too brief followed by suddenly darting eyes. And then we pass each other and neither of us looks back. And that's kind of depressing for my Tuesdays and Thursdays.