Friday, December 02, 2005

In the Bleak MidWinter

I suppose my title this time around is what is known as a shout-out. It's for our lovely Connie in England. It is the title also of an Advent poem by Christina Rossetti, sister to the PreRaphaelite painter Gabriel. That poem is one of Connie's favorites. Both parts of it are true: what it says--that midwinter is often bleak; there are Narnia-like places where Christmas rarely, if ever, comes, or is appreciated, even if it does. But also what it is: an introductory phrase, an incomplete clause, an adverb of time (or manner?) that gives the setting, but not the main noun or verb--not the main action. It is precisely in the middle of bleak winters that Father Christmas comes again, and Aslan moves. Welcome to Advent, all.

Reading. I have stopped halfway through Randall Collins's magisterial Sociology of Philosophies. I'm finishing Robert Bretall's Kierkegaard Anthology. I just finished Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings. I'm slogging along on my article on Kierkegaard and Habermas for the conference in March.

I'm having lots of fun hanging out: thanks to Dawn for conspiring against my determination to be Grumpy Old Postmodern Guy, and to co-conspirators like the Rudds and Kent and Gail.

Our Utne Reader discussion group used to kid around that the best topic for a discussion that we never had was either "What It's Like Being Me" or "What It's Like Being Dawn" (which I think few of those folks could imagine.) Here's a bit of being me right now...Dante's Divine Comedy begins, if I remember correctly, It was noon, in the middle of a wood. In other words, at midlife, one's high point, the zenith of one's power and influence, you are lost. Deeply, deeply lost. In the way only someone with skills could be. (The neophyte, the tenderfoot, could never get far enough into the woods in the first place to get that lost, the kind of lost only scouts and pioneers can be.)

Like most things in my world, this sense of the pressure of being the "middle child" finds its analogue in The Lord of the Rings. I love how Theoden wakes up from his enchantment by Saruman (in The Two Towers) to find all gack he has to deal with: his son is gone, his niece has paid attention to him during years when he paid no attention to her. And meanwhile, there's just work, and all of the least pleasant and least rewarding kind, everywhere he turns, none of it at his initiative but all imposed on him. And he (as played by Bernard Hill) has the most fabulous facial expressions: grim determination, disgusted determination, the Aw, jees, you've got to be kidding look, the All right now what? look. All these great, very human feelings. But he is now fully himself, king not only of others but of his own will. And he goes ahead and thinks hard, makes decisions, does the work. In midlife. At noon. But in a dark wood.

We wake up, and it's late. Already. Always. But maybe at least in my case I had to live a little to realize fully just how much better late is than never.

Props to Community sister Heather. She apparently failed to get the memo telling Christians to wring their hands over other people's problems rather than use them to help those folks. Good for her.

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