Wednesday, June 10, 2015
NEVER ANY PEACE
Out here in Palm Springs, I keep talking to people who say, "That's wonderful you're on vacation."
"VACATION!" I want to scream. "Don't I wish! I am never on vacation!"
The truth is that is partly because I don't especially want to be on vacation. The idea of lazing by a pool for any length of time, for example, is abhorrent to me, though there is a pool outside my door and I will sit out there for half an hour and read preparatory to writing an article or a post.
I have to impose a certain order on my day or I can't/don't want to function. So even though the punishing schedule of the first half of 2015 has let up (mostly because I'm not traveling this summer), the rigor continues.
Prayer, piano (I bought myself a portable keyboard earlier in the year), correspondence, reading, writing, taking photos, taking notes, taking a walk, housecleaning. Returning phone calls, making phone calls--not idly, but as part of a policy of love, of participating even when I don't feel like participating.
I have down time, you could even say 'leisure' time, but it is never idle time. Every thing is part of an overall intention. Everything goes toward making my day and my time as full and fruitful and rich and fecund and life-enhancing as possible. Everything is underlain by "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner," the Jesus Prayer immortalized in The Way of a Pilgrim and Franny and Zooey.
I keep saying to myself, Man I am tired, even though at last I am getting plenty of sleep (or at least plenty of "rest" though I often suffer from insomnia, even with a lighter schedule).
I keep thinking I am going to "get myself back in shape," rejuvenate, regenerate, attain some ideal state of tension-free calm.
Then I remember: "Here we have no lasting city; we seek a home that is yet to come" [Hebrews 13:14].
Lately I'm realizing that the kind of peace I'm looking for doesn't exist on this earth.
There's an anecdote I think of often. Here it is, in part, from an online article called "Father Ed Dowling and AA's Bill W. by Robert Fitzgerald, S.J."
Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was down. His feet hung over the end of the bed that nearly filled the small room he and his wife, Lois, had rented above the 24th Street AA Club in New York. It was a cold, rainy November in 1940. Lois, who supported them both with a job at a department store, was out. Bill was wondering whether the stomach pain he was feeling was an ulcer.
The walls were closing in. Thousands of copies of the Big Book were waiting in a warehouse, unsold. A few people were sober, but Bill was frustrated. How could he reach all who wanted help? Nine months earlier, a gathering of rich New Yorkers had come and gone with applause for the young movement, but no money. Hank P., after complaining for half a year, finally got drunk in April. Rollie H., a nationally famous ball-player, sobered up but broke AA's policy of anonymity by calling the press for a full name-and-photograph story.
Eventually, Bill fell into the same trap as Rollie; he began calling reporters, too, wherever he gave talks. Now he was becoming the center of attention. He had just returned from Baltimore, where a minister had asked him to face the self-pity in his own talk. He was depressed. What if he -- five years sober -- were to drink?
It was 10 p.m. The doorbell rang. Tom, the Club's maintenance man, said there was "some bum from St. Louis" to see him. Reluctantly, Bill said, "Send him up." To himself, he muttered, "Not another drunk. "
But Bill welcomed the stranger, all the same. As the man shuffled to a wooden chair opposite the bed and sat down, his black raincoat fell open, revealing a Roman collar.
"I'm Father Ed Dowling from St. Louis," he said. "A Jesuit friend and I have been struck by the similarity of the AA twelve steps and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius."
"Never heard of them."
Father Ed laughed. This endeared him to Bill. Robert Thomsen tells the rest of the story this way in his book, Bill W.:
"The curious little man went on and on, and as he did, Bill could feel his body relaxing, his spirits rising. Gradually he realized that this man sitting across from him was radiating a kind of grace...
Primarily, Father Ed wanted to talk about the paradox of AA, the 'regeneration,' he called it, the strength arising out of defeat and weakness, the loss of one's old life as a condition for achieving a new one. And Bill agreed with everything..."
Soon Bill was talking about all the steps and taking his fifth step (telling the exact nature of his wrongs) with this priest who had limped in from a storm. He told Father Ed about his anger, his impatience, his mounting dissatisfactions. "Blessed are they," Father Ed said, "who hunger and thirst."
When Bill asked whether there was ever to be any satisfaction, the priest snapped, "Never. Never any." Bill would have to keep on reaching.
Won't we all.