“Oh, Caterpillar! it is because you crawl, because you never get beyond your cabbage-leaf, that you call any thing impossible.”
— The Lark, in Mrs. Alfred Getty’s “Parables from Nature” (read free here)
“What was my grandpa like when he was a kid?” I asked.
“Mean,” Great-Aunt Junilla deadpans. “No, he was funny. He was so funny. And kind.”
This week begins with last week’s events filling my mind, mixed with “Anna Karenina” and the books I’m sharing with Alice this week in school, including “Parables From Nature.”
All messily together in my mind: Sunday school and laundry; math and music; the visitation and the hundreds of people; old photographs and words of comfort. One: I read from the Book of Wisdom during the Mass (a book Protestant bibles don’t include, but which comforted me in a holy way): “But they are in peace.” Peace. He was a god-fearing, fun-loving, gentle man; his funeral was all you’d hope, plus enough glimmers of God to know we are so loved.
And that love pours out over and over.
I thought of that, during a prayer to close visitation. In my family are amazing parents, committed spouses, nurses, engineers, a missionary priest, teachers, a Peace Corps volunteer, a seminary student, medical students, and on and on: We’re just a bunch of people who were loved enough to spend our lives giving that love away. We each do it in our own ways and to different degrees: there are liberals and tea partiers, public school teachers and homeschoolers; Catholics and Baptists (and five Methodists, huh), and a few nonbelievers — and we all came from the same thread. It’s really beautiful.
Two of my cousins and I talked at length at the visitation about our shared affinities: going and doing; serving our neighbors. We even laughed about the commune dream: gardens, chickens, bees, all sorts of people, all sharing stuff. And it was at that point that we turned and noticed one person wasn’t laughing. Not with us, anyhow.
And that’s when it struck me: this vision we have for living a bit radically — well, it’s weird. Even in my own bloodline, it’s weird.
“You’re weird!” was his reply, actually. Verbatim. He was visibly uncomfortable — as if I’d asked him to join us, grow a floor-length beard and play banjo on Friday nights. He shifted from foot to foot; stared with only a small measure of humor. I think he was trying to gauge our seriousness: Pleasetellmeyou’rejoking. We didn’t even tell him the half of it. I didn’t even get to the Shane Claiborne-infused parts of the dream.
I’ve been soaking in this stuff — through relationships, through conversations and books — so long that I didn’t realize, until I looked around at a broader picture, how bizarre it sounds to someone who doesn’t place any stock in Jesus; how even the best moral or humanist approaches fall short of rearranging your life to accommodate hard things. Hospitality and shared life sound … cute? Trite? Unrealistic? Boring? His tone was borderline disgust: “You’re weird!” I won’t soon forget that; maybe because I just assumed everyone’s got a dream to find a plot of land, plant something and stay a while. I forget, sometimes, how comforting solid incomes may feel.
Of course even us dreamers live in the real world. I was sharing these dreams in part with my Peace Corps cousin, who’s waiting on a verdict on ebola to see where her next year-and-a-half leads; and her amazing teacher sister. They certainly live in the real world.
As do we. We love to dream radically, but we also enjoy health insurance and have bills. We buy groceries. I have a feeling my kids’ll require orthodontia in the future. I have things on my radar.
And the day after we were proclaimed weird, between writing thank-you notes and dishing funeral luncheon leftovers into plastic containers, Dave got the message that “the newsroom of the future” would not include the job he currently has. Cue more sinking feeling. He’s not going to be laid off per se — well, rather, everyone there will be before long, and everyone’s invited to apply for shiny new roles; musical-chairs style. (This feels secret, but it’s on the internet. Peoples have seen it.)
The real world encroaches on our radical dreams sometimes. We’re human. Hopeful humans, though.
We’re in a season of waiting here — waiting for a transformation.
Like that lark and caterpillar story, if you can stomach a lesson from my first-grader’s reading: The caterpillar’s just been asked by a dying butterfly to raise her “baby butterflies” from the eggs she’s just laid. Neither knows the life cycle of a butterfly. The poor caterpillar, consulting a lark, is told the eggs will hatch caterpillars and, best of all, she too will become a butterfly. The caterpillar’s all “SAY WHAT.”
We’re in the beginning of that story. Our dreams are the eggs, and we have no idea what’s going to hatch or what it’ll take to make the dreams grow. We only trust Someone put the dreams here with us for a reason. We heard rumors of a transformation for ourselves, too: SAY WHAT. As we watch the dreams hatch — well:
Shame and amazement filled our green friend’s heart, but joy soon followed; for, as the first wonder was possible, the second might be so too.