The leaves have come down in the narrow strip of wild yard, next to the long side porch, a blanket of golden glory, glowing incandescent in the damp. I do not want to rake them.
I do not want to fix the broken towel bar in the downstairs bathroom. It's crudely attached to the wall by a pair of screws, and one of the screws has come out (it always does) and gone missing. I do not want to go rootling around in the baskets of miscellaneous hardware in the storage closet, looking for the right kind of screw; nor do I want to go through the box of screwdrivers looking for the right sized Robertson screwdriver.
I do not want to put a new battery in the basement smoke detector. It's been squeaking for a couple of days now, a polite throat-clearing intermittent little "eep!" that sends the cats' ears rotating. I have the right sort of battery. It would take me half a minute to replace the old one. I don't want to do it. I also don't want to clean out the refrigerator freezer, nor tidy the dining room sideboard, nor tackle the closets.
I do not want to get dinner. I've been getting dinner for years now; I used to enjoy it, but now it has begun to bore me. Similarly, I do not want to do the dishes, tidy the counters (a losing battle, anyway!), mop down the stove top, sweep the kitchen floor. Even less do I want to think about rummaging through the cupboards, throwing out the old stuff, cleaning the shelves and putting everything back in order. In fact, the very thought makes me want to go lie down.
I do not want even to think about getting the house ready for winter--getting the storm windows back from Jerry the painter, caulking windows, replacing weatherstripping. Yes, I know that if this doesn't get done, the house will be hideously drafty, but I don't care. I'll just put on extra socks, and if the guys don't like it they can caulk the windows. I do not want to dust. I do not want to sort books. I might not mind too much ironing some shirts, but not now. I especially, particularly, do not wish to tidy, not even my own desk.
I am tired of being an adult. I am tired of responsibility, of forethought, of prudence, of making sure that what needs to get done gets done, or at least the bits I can't skip. I want to go back to being 15, although without the hormones, thank you. Alternatively, I'd like to go for a sea cruise--anything that took me out of the house for a long, long time. Since neither of those is on, I'd at least like to go to bed for the afternoon with a book and a cup of hot mocha.
But I don't do that. There's a certain something in me that sighs and puts down the book and wanders off in search of the right-sized screw and a Robertson screwdriver. That same side automatically rinses and stacks dishes, puts together something for supper, checks on the home schooling, scoops an armload of laundry out of the drier and sorts it. This is what adulthood is about: doing what you don't necessarily want to, because it needs to be done.
There is a similar part of me that won't let me cheat or lie or be cruel to people without feeling lousy about it afterwards. There is a grammar of quite ordinary goodness--you see that in small towns a lot, thank God--and while not everyone follows it, and while we all lapse sometimes, when we do, most of us feel the rough wrongness in our moral syntax, a small stone in the sneaker, and it bothers us, sometimes only fleetingly, sometimes very badly indeed. At least that's trust of most of the people I know, although I can also think of a few really, really strange cases.
There is a part of me that is drawn irresistibly to love my children and through them, other children. This is pure instinct stuff. I can't claim any credit for it. I remember lying in my hospital bed with my new firstborn in my arms and feeling as though my neural wiring was all being unplugged and rerouted through my hypothalamus. Through my own kids, other children become lovable. Through other children, still other and older children become lovable, and there is no one who is not an older child.
There is a part of me that gets drawn Godward no matter how whiny or doubtful I feel. St. Paul talks about the human condition: "I do not understand what I do; for I don't do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate." That is, I know what God expects from me, but I seem to find myself charging off in the opposite direction without wanting to. But the opposite also applies: having once let God sneak in (as Anne Lamotte says) like a stray kitten, we find some changes. We may give ourselves permission to behave just like the ordinary heathen bloke, get down and play in the sandbox just like other people but it just doesn't feel right. Instead of doing the things we like and find easy, we may find ourselves pulled willynilly into doing the things that we're not so sure of, things that make us nervous, things that get us hurt or stretch us in ways that we don't find comfortable at all. But we do them because that way (it feels) lies God.
For there is that instinctive itch; it is in all times and cultures, in all conditions of humankind: that still small voice, that scent of the numinous, as haunting and fetching as the smell of leaves burning in autumn. And that scent, that longing, that itch, that something grows stronger and stronger with time, habituating and yet more strongly satisfying, something for which the need becomes both stronger and more deliciously fulfilled. In that sense, I suppose religion really is the (endogenous) opioid of the people...
We spend so much time trying to figure out where sin comes from --why we're all like Paul, not doing what we know is right, not doing what we want to do; it doesn't occur to us to wonder why, in fact, we do as much good as we do. Our culture sometimes is fascinated by the dark and the macabre, to the point where we forget how mysterious the Light is--and so much more interesting! not flat and glaring brightness, but a richness of colours defeating any prism. We are so fascinated by the Problem of Evil that we forget its equal and opposite problem, the Problem of Love. Where does it come from, Love? Why are we drawn to be loving?
Once we have that scent of God, that smell of the living water, nothing else will quite do. Not that our pleasure in other things is diminished--quite the contrary, in fact. Delighting in God means delighting all the more deeply in God's creation, and in God's creation's creations, from Brie to the glory of grass snakes to the arc of the night sky. The pleasure we'd been willing to put aside in the interests of finding that certain something--those pleasures we get back, all the happier.
In a properly God-directed mood--the sort of mood I get some mornings when the stars are properly configured and my meds are working perfectly--my strength is as the strength of ten and I can actually ream out whole closets. Because there's nothing like joy to make you busy and productive, and there's nothing like God for Joy. For the rest, I am in a Pauline state of in-betweenishness and I'll get done what I can. That fire alarm for sure.