I’ve been there to watch the sun rise, and I’ve been there to watch the sun set — and I’ve been there at all hours in between.
It is peaceful and strong and restful and restorative. Who knew that a piece of art could do all that?
I probably have hundreds of photographs of Threshold — from close-ups of insects climbing on the limestone to all-encompassing shots taken from a distance as I walked around it to shots taken with her walls.
In Threshold, I recognize Psalm 48. I have numbered her towers – one – and considered well her ramparts. It’s not Zion, but it points me in that direction.
Flannery O’Connor said, “Grace must wound before it can heal.”
I scribbled those words in my notes during one Flannery O talk given by Dr. Ralph Wood at Laity Lodge.
If I can grasp that concept, I think I’ll be able to understand her writing more.
Jonathan Rogers looked at me during one session and said, “You don’t have to like Flannery O’Connor.”
I know. But I want to.
I really do.
I want to wrap my mind around this peacock-loving, slant-writing, perfect-word-choosing writer.
I want to be able to read one her stories where someone is gored by a bull or where a grandfather kills his granddaughter, I want to read one of those stories that leaves me feeling like I’ve been sucker-punched, and be able to say, “Ah, I’ve been wounded so that I can experience the grace of this story.”
Flannery O’Connor said, “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.”
Yes, that’s it, Flannery. That’s me.
I see the hardness and hopelessness and brutality, and I miss the grace.
I said something to Jonathan about Judgement Day, the story that did me in on Flannery O. It’s the story of an old man from Georgia brought by his daughter to live with her in New York City. He wants to go home but dies in a horrible death in New York.
“I’m stuck with this image of a man with his head stuffed in the spokes of the railing. It’s an awful image,” I told him.
“Yes,” JR agreed, “but he got to go home.”
In the end the daughter brought her father’s body back to Georgia.
Was she the one wounded?
Was she the one who experienced grace?
See what I mean about not understanding Flannery?
And yet if grace were easy to understand, somehow it would seem cheaper.
So wound me, grace, so I can heal, and be more aware of the amazing power You hold.
Help me learn to extend that same grace, then, to others.
We’re getting to the end of this alphabet challenge and I’m starting to feel punchy. I thought about posting my picture taken at Laity Lodge of a turkey vulture and then accompanying it with vulture jokes.
But when I started looking up vulture jokes, they all sounded so familiar. It’s not that we sit around telling vulture jokes here, so I wondered if I had already written about them. Sure enough, yes, I had, in “Vultures (and a box full of Buechner).” If you’re interested in vulture jokes, you’ll have to go there.
I had forgotten that post because, at the time I wrote it, I was in a fog of grief regarding my brother’s death. There are a lot of things I don’t remember from that period.
But Frederick Buechner now occupies a significant chunk of shelf space and I like that.
The other day Andrew Peterson, my original inspiration for a vulture post this go-round, posted a picture of a t-shirt that said “Beek-ner“. The photo was captioned, “A gift from the Buechner Institute at King University. Educating non-Buechner fans one t-shirt at a time.”
Although, really, vultures have nothing to do with Andrew Peterson or Frederick Buechner.
I’m sure you’re scratching your head over this nonsense.
Welcome to my world — a jumble of thoughts and weird associations that I am forever picking through to try to make sense of things.
So back to vultures. And Laity Lodge.
I went on a hike there. We looked over a bluff. The view was spectacular.
And a turkey vulture seemed suspended over the canyon.
Like on a wild stringless mobile hanging over the world, moving on unseen currents, without ever seeming to have to use its broad extended wings.
Andrew Peterson’s song “Nothing to Say” is about a time when he is struck speechless by the beauty of Arizona. He sings,
I see the eagles swim the canyon sea
Creation yawns in front of me
Oh, Lord, I never felt so small
Maybe he was watching turkey vultures. They really are quite spectacular.
Helen called the number, though. “I don’t think it’s them,” she said. “Call and listen to the message.”
I did… and recognized the voice. Of a friend.
Yesterday and again today, I woke up to see snow outside. Snow. After 70 degree weather and green grass and crocuses. Unexpected snow. In late April.
The other day I happened to be driving on Rte 20 in New York and saw a sign for the place my daughter-in-law works. Although I was on my way somewhere else, I turned in to see her. Unexpected. It was a delight to see her and the place she works.
At Laity Lodge, on one of my pre-dawn trips to Threshold, I noticed a light, an artificial light, in the castle. I didn’t want to startle the other visitor so I stuck my head in the entrance and said something like, “I didn’t want to scare you, but I’m up here, too.” Then I went and sat on a chunk of limestone outside and watched the sun rise. I’m quite sure I was unexpected.
On another visit to Threshold, I was surprised by another living thing there.
I was lost in reverie, thinking on who knows what, when a nearby movement startled me. It was a beetle, which, of course, put me in mind of A. A. Milne.
I found a little beetle; so that Beetle was his name,
And I called him Alexander and he answered just the same.
I put him in a match-box, and I kept him all the day …
And Nanny let my beetle out –
Yes, Nanny let my beetle out –
She went and let my beetle out –
And Beetle ran away.
She said she didn’t mean it, and I never said she did,
She said she wanted matches and she just took off the lid,
She said that she was sorry, but it’s difficult to catch
An excited sort of beetle you’ve mistaken for a match….
An unexpected beetle in a matchbox is kind of like an unexpected beetle in a castle.
Heraclitus said, “If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it…”
Oh, Heraclitus, walk with me for a day. I’m surrounded by the unexpected.
Since I had been to Laity Lodge the previous year, I knew where to head as soon as I arrived. A place called Threshold.
Last year I spent a lot of time inside Threshold. I sat on the cold stone seat.I looked up.This year, when I went in, I found myself looking out.I sat outside and looked in.I went early in the morning, before dawn, and looked at it in the dim light.I tried to take pictures of the sky, which was clear and blue-black and star-studded, or star-spangled, or star-strewn. You get the idea. But all my star pictures look like this.I think I need a fancier camera.
Because the memory of those stars is etched in my mind.
I spent a few feeble minutes trying to take a picture, but I spent hours, literally hours, sitting on a chunk of limestone and looking up at the twinkling luminaries of the night.
“Why do stars twinkle?” Laurel asked the other day.
“So we can sing songs about them,” I told her.
She was looking for the scientific explanation and read to me from her science notebook.
The stars twinkle because the air over our heads is turbulent and as it blows past, it distorts the incoming light from the stars making them appear to slightly shift position and brightness level in seconds…
At Laity Lodge, though, we were cut off from society. My car companions were laughing about how friends and family were shocked that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with March Madness while we were there.
Laity Lodge has no televisions in the rooms and no cell phone reception. I wonder how many people pulled out their cell phone when they got there just to make sure that the warning was a truth.
I have a friend who rents out her home weekly during the summers in Cooperstown. Even though cell phone companies have upped the coverage in that area during the summer, the way her home is nestled between hills, she still has no cell coverage. The fact that there is no cell reception is clearly stated multiple places when people rent the home, but she said they still pull out their cell phone when they arrive to check to see if it’s true. It is.
I thought about that cut-offness one day as I was walking the grounds at Laity Lodge. All sorts of stuff could be happening in the world and I wouldn’t know. Plane crashes, racial tension, earthquakes, men kneeling in the sand, presidential candidacy announcements, March Madness. Somehow I would survive three or four days without knowing whether or not any of these things happened.
Early in Fiddler on the Roof, the people of Anatevka gather while someone reads to them from the newspaper. The news they hear is already old, probably several weeks, ancient by today’s standards. Yet, they listen because it’s new to them.
Well, I was reading my paper. It’s nothing very important, a story about the crops in the Ukraine, and this and that…. And then I saw this….
“In a village called Rajanka, all the Jews were evicted, forced to leave their homes.”
Some news is just a kick in the gut.
Most news we hear is either nothing very important or it’s awful. I didn’t feel I was missing anything by missing it for a few days.
The truth is I was cut off from society, and yet I wasn’t.
I was in society with the 80-some people on the grounds.
Dr. Ralph Woods stopped me one day at Laity Lodge.
“I’ve noticed you,” he said.
Noticed me? I thought. Me?
Short of wearing camo, I do my best to blend in with my surroundings.
He continued. “You’re very attentive to your deaf friend. It’s nice the way you help her.”
Oh, goodness. I wanted to tell him that I am the one on the receiving end in that relationship. I wanted to tell him that she helps me in so many ways, ways I could never repay.
But I just said, “Thank you,” and allowed him to believe that I was being nice.
What he had seen was me sitting in the front row with a friend. I tried taking notes so that she could read and understand a little of what was going on, but my notes were terrible and messy. I can’t imagine that she got much from them.
However, scattered through my notes are some odd statements, because there would be times when someone said something funny and the crowd would erupt in laughter.
She would look at me, at times like that, her face a question, and rub her thumb against her fingers, like she wanted the substance. I would try to distill the laughter to the one or two lines from which it originated.
Odd lines in my notes from outbreaks of laughter during sessions:
“He said he would be brief.” — words from a long-winded speaker.
“+2 sword of elf-killing?” — I wasn’t sure I heard that one correctly, but I think it’s close.
“Match the Rabbit Roomer with his neuroses” — a comment from the Rabbit Room panel.
In my mind, whenever she looked at me with the question, I heard “Qu’est-ce que?” — short for qu’est-ce que c’est, literally French for, what is it that it is.
“What?” she wanted to know. “What’s being said? What funny thing happened? What am I missing?”
How hard it must be to be deaf in a crowd of hearing people! We take it for granted — that we can hear the one-liners from the crowd without having seen the one who said it.
We can hear the bell calling us to dinner.
We can hear the music and the laughter.
We can hear the rise and fall of a voice as a story is being told.
And the wind in the trees.
And the water of the Frio River.
On our last night at Laity Lodge, I was heading to the concert with a friend and stopped at my deaf friend’s room to see if she was ready to go.
I opened her door, didn’t see her in there, and called her name in case she was around the corner.
Of course, she didn’t answer, because she couldn’t hear me.
My companion laughed and laughed. “I can’t believe you just did that,” she said.
I can’t believe I did either.
It’s just that when I think of her, I don’t think of a disability. I think of a beautiful person with whom I love spending time.
Before my trip, with the Lenten season on my mind, I wrote a Collect for Laity Lodge.
To the God of Silence —
Speak to me in whispers
in gentle breezes
in the laughter of running water
and the tears of gentle rain.
Remind me now and again
that You are with me every moment.
Fill my heart with Your silence
and Your song
Through Jesus —
who heard Your silence in Gethsemane
and again on the cross
and who now sits at Your right hand.
Elie Wiesel, in his foreword to the newest translation of Night, said, “[I] trusted the silence that envelops and transcends words… For despite all my attempts to articulate the unspeakable, ‘it’ is still not right.” And later, “[Some things] need to remain between the lines.”
Night‘s awful story needs to be heard — yet it speaks as much through the silences as it does with the words. It is a powerful book.
And I found myself, during Lent, going again and again to God’s silence in Gethsemane and at Calvary.