Thursday, October 6, 2011

Update: Naming It Well


So much is going well. I wish I had the time and the words. I wish I had the gumption too. Everything I want to say and could be said about family, marriage, fatherhood, music, campus ministry, teaching, friendship…trying to speak well about such things feels silly and awkward to name, or at least to name too quickly.

Have you ever had an experience that was so raw and good that you were left reeling dumb and stupid? I asked a poet once if he walked around experiencing his waking life thinking, “now that experience…there is a poem in that.” He said that no, we must first warm our hands around the fire of existence and then later work to find what will emerge in the art.

This is the question of taking our cameras with us on vacation. Walker Percy asks if we spend all our time behind the lens, do we end up missing the experience itself? The loss of creature? Is life merely a photo album we flip through page by page later afterwards? In the context of our contemporary media: is our life the sum total of what we catalogue of ourselves on our blogs and facebook pages?

Yet we do name our experiences. We have to. We need ways to share ourselves. This is what Annie Dillard is working through in her essay, “Total Eclipse.” She says we bluster around the world with a “shovel and a pail, a grammar and a lexicon” working to save our very lives because those things that we do not have words for are lost to us. So the challenge is to use the right words, the best words, to have patience and not name the experience too quickly and perhaps turn to the best of artists and writers and learn from their vocabularies how to better name our remembrances worth remembering.

Yesterday I splurged and purchased a 16 GB memory card for our camera. It’s a point and shoot that was a previous splurge just before Casper was born. It cost a third of our Nikon SDL, but we use it so much more often because it fits in a pocket and because it takes HD videos and has a stereo microphone. We captured Casper’s birth with it. It has captured many important moments. The trouble is of course with hard disk space. We have none left. HD videos are huge. Yesterday, I decided I didn’t care. We need to keep filming Casper. I’ll buy another external hard drive.

So this morning I filmed the ritual of walking up the stairs to get him out of his crib. I filmed a bit of him looking and pointing out the window. I filmed him shoving his face into his blanket and sucking his thumb. I set the camera on a shelf and filmed us reading books before bed. He thinks he is talking now. He opens a book, points at pictures and makes sounds in a cadence that resembles something that could sound like reading. Tonight he went to our bookcase and dragged Maugham’s Of Human Bondage over to Susanna and sat down on her lap for her to read only to find there were no pictures.

I’ll never be a good enough poet or songwriter to capture these moments. Susanna’s second book, Entering the House of Awe, arrived a few weeks ago (and is for sale…you can buy it on Amazon, but if you buy it directly from us…we’ll pocket more money…and that is helpful…email me if you are interested). As a new mom, she hasn’t written more than a few poems in the last year. When the book arrived, I read several poems aloud at the dinner table weeping and made her promise to keep writing if only for me. Perhaps some day after warming her hands on the fire of our beautiful, little boy she will write about him and about us and perhaps she will find the correct, appropriate words to help us remember—not just remember, but to fully experience it.

But in the mean time, I’m using HD video to keep track of these things. Children suddenly speed up time. A baby changes into a toddler too quickly. A year is no longer just a year. It is the difference between an immobile, sleeping sack of eating and pooping flesh and a babbling, temperamental, wide-awake to the world, bonafide human being who can almost run, who you swear is about to utter a sentence demanding more cheese.

My gift and my curse is that I feel everything so deeply. Some people might call it sensitivity or sentimentality or emotionalism. Perhaps it is all three. I think it is a matter of exhaustion. I barely know how to process all that I absorb in a day.

Susanna is out for the evening. I just put Casper to bed a few hours ago and I’m still absorbing the goodness of holding him in the nursery lit only by the glowing mobile I made for him. C.S. Lewis writes in his famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” that if we really could behold each other we would see every one of us as princes and princesses. The sheer magnitude of each other’s full being would be almost too much to bear. I believe this is the gift of babies: in their tender state, we get to hold them and gather them up into ourselves in a way that we cannot with any other grown, sophisticated being. Babies are present and available to watch and admire. Teenagers, adults? They are hidden behind layers. We don’t have the right words for them. No words to unlock their mysteries. But babies are plain and raw and available. They are revealed in such plain sight that even the most random of strangers feels the freedom to come up and give them a pinch (which of course bothers the heck out of me when it happens to Casper).

This is what Jesus said about the children, that we must become like one of them to inherit the kingdom. Throw off sophistication. Discard posturing. Repent of pretension. Stop hiding. Risk being known. Forgive others when they misunderstand you. Let yourself be simply present and alive. Rejoice.

1 comment:

Tamara @ Living Palm said...

Even if it feels awkward and silly to try to name the moments of this season, I'm glad you did it anyway. These words are very good. I'm glad I stopped by to read today. Thank you.