FOUND outtakes, vol. 2
A few weeks ago, I shared a chapter from Found that was cut in the final editing process. Here’s another chance to read some of my outtakes. I was sad to slice out this section because it talks about Michael Casey’s idea of the “relentness sameness” of everyday life. I love that phrase and I’m still asking myself these questions about stability…
I sit down to tuna and romaine during August’s naptime, and read from, how we regular people can live with these values as well. This makes sense to me. If the goal of monasticism is to commit one’s life to God through the refining work of community, obedience should be mandatory. Humans are rebellious by nature. We always have to realign ourselves toward the common goal. Even loving another human means sacrificing your own needs or wants. That word, obedience, for all the discomfort it gives the modern, sophisticated person, is an important word. We live together by conforming our wills to a greater will. To believe in God is to believe there is something greater than me, something worthy of my realignment.
Stability, though, is a new idea. I’ve never studied it in a Bible study. I’ve never heard a sermon preached on the concept. It feels wise and maybe even important. But how in the world do I apply it to my life?
I stab my fork into the lettuce and consider my “failures” of stability. I’ve lived in three cities in the past eight years. My entire adulthood has been unstable. If I were become “stable” where would I even begin?
I eat more salad and stare at the wall. There’s a brown smudge near the heating vent where August must have wiped his hands after eating a cookie. How have I never noticed it before?
Maybe stability should just mean staying married and being committed to my son for the rest of my life. After all, I made vows to both of them. They are my family.
I stab some tiny pieces of cucumber. Place and Family? Is that Stability? I can at least practice some of the vow.
I take my plate to the kitchen sink, rinsing my dish. Then I fill the kettle with water from the tap, turning the stove on for a cup of afternoon tea. It’s always cold in this apartment and dark. Windows don’t close all the way and there’s only that one heater vent in the hallway, where the brown smudge is. I pull my sweater tight around me.
“Have I already failed at stability?” I whisper to God, standing in my kitchen, listening to the water heat on the stove. The word “remain” is floating around my mind. “Remain in me and I will remain in you,” Christ spoke to his disciples. What can be more countercultural than remaining? In a marriage, in a community, in the land you came from?
“But I didn’t remain,” I say to God. I made the choice to get a master’s degree from a university in the northeast. I fell in love with a boy from Philadelphia. I supported our choice to follow Chris’ career to the west coast. And why? Did we come for adventure, for success? It’s such a great opportunity we said to our friends and his family. Four months in and we’re lost. We’re lonely.
What do we value if we don’t value stability?
This idea of remaining is making me nervous. It’s dangerous. Have we been pursuing success at the cost of relationships? Is that who we are?
I turn the stove off and drop a tea bag into a plain white mug. I pour the steaming water on top of it, sigh at the sound of hot water swishing outward, making room.
I walk with my tea to the rocking chair in the other room. I bow my face toward the steam of the cup, rocking back and forth, back and forth. Lord, I pray, if I’ve already missed my chance at stability, what does it mean to choose it now? I let my mind hold that word, stability. It somersaults around the padded room of my skull, crashing soft against the edges. I remember something else I read last month: a phrase I wrote on a sticky note next to my desk: relentless sameness. “External monotony is an invitation to inner change,” Michael Casey said, “whereas novelty and constant variety short-circuit the process of going deeper.”
Deeper. Does the monotony of everyday commitments grow us deeper? Can I choose stability in my life here, even when I don’t know how long we’ll live here, even if I hope to leave this city as soon as possible?
Relentness Sameness, I say aloud. Today was another morning of yogurt and granola for August. He pooped during breakfast. I changed him. He “helped” me feed the cat, watched Sesame Street while I took a shower. He walked into the bathroom screaming for me to get out of the shower just as I was attempting to shave my legs for the third day in a row. I put down the razor and turned the water off. We played blocks and as soon as he looked like he was capable of playing by himself, I secretly moved to the couch to read. He noticed, screamed.
I said: “Use your words, please.”
He said, “Pease.”
“Hep!” He said, trying to sign a thumbs-up on his open palm, the sign for Help which usually just looks like he’s clapping. I joined him on the floor.
These are the insistent daily necessities—moments of unremitting plainness, moments so far from spectacular that their dullness threatens my mind—when I need a soft voice to tell me that what I’m doing here, on the floor, on a Tuesday morning matters. I wanted to shave my legs today. I wanted to read. I wanted to curl up on the couch while the rain hit the sidewalk outside and turn on educational TV all day long so I wouldn’t have to entertain my child.
But there’s always a choice to make. And today I made it again to keep the TV off, to get off my butt, to talk to August about the colors of each block we stacked on top of one another, to say “Oh no!” when he knocked it down. To speak the names of each wooden animal.
I pray. I offer God the mundane of playtime on the floor: I offer wooden blocks and animal names. I say, “Lord, let those blocks be my prayer.” I whisper that into the steam of my tea. I offer my laziness, too. I offer my unshaven legs, my cramps that have begged all day for a heating pad and a whine. I watch the steam rise like incense. My offering is in the vow, not the results of the vow: my gift to the God who made my son.
Later, after August wakes up from his nap and is busy sorting cheerios into a bottle on the floor, I sneak a moment to read my noontime Psalm, the 52nd.
“I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good…”
What is stability but the waiting?
August can’t get the Cheerio to fit in the bottle’s little hole. I sing to him: “Have patience, don’t worry. Don’t be in such a hurry.”