My apartment building was originally built as a tavern in 1806. For a while, it functioned as the first class hotel in the town, hosting many famous visitors; John Adams actually referenced the host and hostess of the building in some of his letters. In recent years, the building has fallen into a state of disrepair making it still quite livable but a long cry from luxurious and thus gratefully affordable for my modest budget.
From the outside the building is little to behold. It has four stories, the fourth of which is set back from an expansion on the third level. For some reason or another a previous owner decided to adorn the building’s addition with a different color than the rest; the third story consists of an obtuse yellowish-pink siding. Reasons and intentions may vary, but at least ascetically it was a poor choice. The rest of my street is lined with high-priced colonial buildings, all with proud historic registrations hanging next to their doors. At best, mine has the unbecoming nature of a used minivan at soccer practice. At worst it looks like the sound of a fart in a funeral.
During my undergraduate work, I wrote a memorable paper on Dante’s Divine Comedy. I built my thesis on elusive and non-concrete facts, an argument built on sand to support a point I figured to be entirely genius because not once had it been mentioned in class. It was that obscure. In my efforts towards profundity, I even withheld from getting the teacher’s advice; God forbid she steal my idea for her next academic publication.
Years down the road as a seminary student, I feel that the quickest way to make my place in this field is through some sort of controversy. These days heretics aren’t burned, usually they’re best sellers. Pulled by this current, I find myself sacrificing common sense and truth on the wacky, tripped-out altar of originality. The problem with this perspective is that a hundred years from now, my controversy will be overlooked as dull and obnoxious at best, while true reverence is saved for those who knew how to preserve, tweak and further illuminate the beauty of things that in and of themselves demanded saving. Just because it’s led to momentary fame and spotlights for other people doesn’t mean I want to be the one to publish the next vampire romance of theology.
When my paper on the Divine Comedy was graded and returned, I was adequately humiliated to find the pages riddled with red markings. At the bottom was a note from my professor pointing out that I’d built my thesis on a misconstrued definition of a single word (Literature student seeking humility? Granted). Though she admired my originality, she advised me to use a dictionary next time. The dreadful irony in the situation was that I had used a dictionary; the paper was littered with multi-syllabic concoctions I wouldn’t otherwise know from my grandmother’s prescription. I’d just never bothered to look up that word because no one wants to come to the self-realization that their genius is stupidity in sheep’s clothing.
I have aspirations of success, just like any other human. Every now and then I may think I’ve found the edge on some issue or topic. But the more I study theology the more I find that my edges are hardly a new color. In fact, their color that is so old and renowned for its doofuscity that it sticks out like a sore thumb and demands that someone question my taste in décor. This is the cross of many intellectual-wannabes in my generation. It seems that I am continually finding, against my most earnest and rebellious wishes, that the new and intriguing sometimes gives way to a retrospective “what the hell was I thinking?”
And so I’ve brought myself to a point of settling for orthodoxy. I’ve brought myself to the point of looking at a building and not wanting to change it to something economical or modern, but perhaps just preserve the way it is. I’ve come to the point of realizing that nothing is novel in this world, nothing is new under the sun. I’ve come to the point of finding beautiful in the ordinary, the placid and the settled, of seeing what is new and reformed to frequently be the most narrow-minded of all. I see it this way not because tradition is perfect or stories unscarred but because in my rush to something fresh and new I find myself ignoring a history of fascinations, heresies, wars and trivial undertakings that all have lessons to teach me. The buildings I try to adapt into my new way of thinking are actually one of the strongest links to the past from whence I come.
And when I really think about it, that’s not too bad for settling.