After Easter dessert at my parents’ house, my husband and I went out to jog around the block, which is a weird sort of date we find enjoyable sometimes. It’s the best of both worlds–time alone, time together in a pastoral landscape–since often one of us will feel the need to push on harder and run ahead, and then we each enjoy a bit of solitude as well.
It was the first reliably warm day we’ve had this Spring, and my parents’ house is very remote, where white steepled burgs of a few hundred people nestle in the slightly rolling hills of Southeastern Indiana. And after three or so miles of keeping up with my husband, I let him go, on the promise that he would circle back to get me.
When I went to California in February, I was all ready to abandon my native place, but here at the end of April, when the woods seem to green up before your eyes, and the sun–which seems so special and new for having been absent so long–casts long shadows over the May Apples and Trout Lilies and Spring Beauties, I remember why I love the Midwest so much, and why I’ve said again and again that I will never live anywhere else.
The feeling of being alone in a Midwestern woods, the only breathing human for miles, is entirely different. You feel as if you’ve stumbled on a secret; a shale bed creek, bluebells drifting alongside, and each tree its own personality, known by the shape of its trunk and texture of its bark– shagbark, or the white scarred sycamore. The jewels of the Midwest are often hidden, yet present themselves as an exclusive gift for anyone who will have them.
Partake!–they say to you. Remember these scenes in your mind, because next week everything will be different. The leaves will unfold and obscure the trunks of trees, and taller plants will darken the trillium and Dutchman’s Britches, and the woods will be a different place–another secret for someone else to find.
Being human however, and an ingrate to boot, it wasn’t enough for me to accept the gift of the moment, and when my husband circled back around, I reissued an ancient marital plea to chuck everything and move out here, next door to Mom and Dad where we can have all this beauty all the time.
The pros and cons of this debate have been weighed many times. The pros are all mine, the cons all his in the form of longer commutes, increased labor maintaining more land, and living in the shadow of one’s in-laws. But where I had limited energy for running, my endurance for argument was un-paralleled.
Why don’t you want what I want, or rather, why don’t you give me what I want even though it’s inconvenient, expensive and a considerable burden for you?
My husband’s goal is to live in the house we’re in for the rest of our lives. He’s been clear in this intention since shortly after the birth of our fifth child, when I started comparing the headcount in our family to the room count in our house, and I felt a little bit slighted (even though our house by any other standard is a very good house–a covetable one even).
My kids never fail to point out when they encounter someone living in a house twice the size of ours but with a fraction of the people. And I would explain to them, that that’s just the physics of life in America. Having more people in your family pretty much insures your house will be smaller, or at least, will feel smaller.
Still, I started sifting through the real estate listings. I even paid a guy to draw up two alternate sets of plans for an addition: a beer plan for the rationalist in me, and a champagne plan for if/when money is no object.
That day never came, and when I learned that even the beer plan was out of our reach, I gave up my quest for a bigger and better house and felt an infinite surge of relief. To be satisfied with what one has now, in this moment, is such a blessed and peaceful state of being.
I have a friend who grew up in a three bedroom bungalow with her parents and ten siblings. They had only one bathroom. She said that the sleeping arrangements were constantly in flux. People were sleeping in the dining room, in the basement, in the hallways. Makeshift vanities were set up in the bedrooms so people could do their primping without creating lines for the toilet. Nevertheless, there were often lines for the toilet.
My husband suggested that I spend more time with this friend, because for a week after I heard her story, I felt grateful and prepared to rough it out: “Look, we have two toilets!” But the old wanting and hoping and planning for bigger and better would inevitably come back, and sometimes it would take on entirely different shapes–like a longing for the past, or a fantasy of a different future, or a desire to possess that which no one can rightly possess–nature, Springtime.
When my husband and I experience conflict, it usually takes the shape of my argument, his infinite patience in waiting for it to be over. So when met with my overcooked and reheated proposal, he decided to run along and let me stew alone. It was a bitter stew though, since what had felt just a little bit ago like blessed solitude, had turned to abandonment. And I was mad because it was Easter, which for some reason in my mind, deemed my argument worthy of a hearing.
As I turned the corner on the last leg of our long walk, however, I could see that I had done it again: preferring the dream to reality, I had given myself over to the master of illusion, and allowed him to make me restless when I should be rejoicing in the triumph of the Resurrection.
In the Adoration Vigil for Holy Thursday Night (Magnificat, Holy Week, 2014), Father Richard Veras writes:
“While the Apostles wanted to send the people away, Jesus embraced the circumstances and thus affirmed that all reality is a sign of the Father.
This is why the devil hates reality. This is why the devil deals in “ifs.” Earlier in the evening of Holy Thursday, Jesus showed how small is the tempter’s imagination as compared to reality. For the devil challenged Jesus to turn stones to bread. At the Last Supper, Jesus instead turns bread to God!”
Satan says, “If,” and Christ answers, “Is.” And yet God’s reality is always far greater and more profound than can be seen by human light. I may want to possess more and better things, yet remain unaware of how those possessions will saddle me and inhibit my freedom, unaware of how my refusal to be happy here, now, with what is, undermines the happiness I hope for in my relationships, in my marriage.
It is impossible to say that I love God and want to be with him, while at the same time rejecting His reality. He is the God of “I Am,”–here, now, this.
*Just as Jesus never faces temptation in the desert alone, but rather in the “Community of Persons” that is the Holy Trinity, neither do I face it alone. Special thanks to my husband who witnesses and endures my temptations with incredible stoicism.