A Quote I Just Can’t Shake

Things have been a bit crazy over the past few days, both personally and professionally. (Personally, because “Seven Boys = Crazy” each and every day, without qualification. And professionally, because the opening of a new academic year is always insane.)

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize a peculiar, personal tic that pops up every time I find myself in the midst of such insanity: I get earworms.  You know, those catchy little things that you didn’t really mean to catch and probably don’t really want, but that you just can’t shake. Mine usually stick with me for a few hours, but in these high-stress environments, they can hang on for days at a time. It’s as though my base-level of business is too high for me to really give them my single-minded attention, so they bubble along just below my conscious awareness, prudently keeping out of the way just enough that I’m never compelled to deal with them directly.

Mostly, they’re musical earworms. But every now and then, I find myself unconsciously hearing the same phrase over and over again in my head. And often, Orual-like, I come to recognize my endless repetitions gradually, without the faintest idea how long I’ve been repeating myself.

The most recent example of this symptom, however — the one that I’m experiencing right now — reminds me that these kinds of earworms aren’t always irritating. Sometimes, they’re just exactly what I need to hear. I just need to settle down enough to actually hear them.

So here (with a bit of context) is today’s initially-unrecognized reflection:

‘This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,’ whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. `Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!’

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror–indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy–but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his

humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

`Rat!’ he found breath to whisper, shaking. `Are you afraid?’

`Afraid?’ murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. `Afraid! Of him? O, never, never! And yet–and yet– O, Mole, I am afraid!’

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

That’s from Chapter Seven of Kenneth Grahame’s beloved “The Wind in the Willows.” And while the whole work is great fun, that chapter has always jumped out at me as something very (and  wonderfully) other.

I doubt I recognize everything Grahame’s trying to say here, and the mythological underpinnings are a bit confusing to me, as well. But Rat’s recognition that fear is not always something to shun moves me more deeply every time I return to these pages. And if, like Mole, I somehow find the peace and happiness that exists even in the midst of all this chaos, I’ll be that much closer to recognizing the other half of his experience, as well – the august Presence that is so very, very near.

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • joannemcportland

    Always felt the same Otherness in this chapter. The fact that it’s Pan, the great god of nature–who inspires the awesome wonder in worshipers, and the terrible fear known as panic in those who refuse to recognize him–is uniquely suited to the book’s animal universe, but it’s clear that we the readers are to recognize the mysterium tremendum that is God encountered in this clearing. Whenever I speak or sing of “fear of the Lord,” it’s this chapter that stirs in me.

    • joannemcportland

      PS, Chapter 1′s ode to the happiness of messing about in boats is about as good a description of the sacramentality of the world as I know of, too.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat Joseph Susanka

        I love that description, as well, @joannemcportland:disqus. It’s not quite as transcendent as the “Pan” chapter, perhaps. But it’s just as true.


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