A Damned, Sick Joke

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We had a big blizzard this week. I used to wish for days like these when I was a kid. I dreamt that snow fell across southern Ohio and we’d be buried in our house, eating crackers and peanut butter and reading around candles, huddled close together for warmth. So I was every sort of content when I awoke Monday night and heard the whistle and cry of the wind as it hovered over the new snow, vast and unformed, perfectly white. Everything was shut down the next morning. My wife put on some coffee and we sat under blankets reading as the blizzard continued into the afternoon.

Snow gathered on our window sill. And as the wind pushed against the screen, the snow forced it’s way through, collecting and filling the gap between the window and screen. I watched this through various glances as the storm wore on. It looked like a white ant farm, before the mail had arrived carrying a tiny vile of insects to put inside. Untouched and serene. Safe. Beautiful.

It’s a dangerous thing, Tolkien once said, stepping out your front door- you never know where the road may lead.

And its wonderful but startlingly true. Terrible things lie just steps away from the safety of one’s home. I suppose that’s the nice thing about being snowed in. The world is also snowed out.

In 1883 Friedrich Nietzsche got word that a natural disaster had destroyed the town of Java in the Dutch East Indies. The lava flow and tsunamis created by ongoing seismic activity killed – by some estimates- hundreds of thousands of people.

“Two hundred thousand wiped out at a stroke,” Nietzsche wrote a friend. “How magnificent!”

We had some neighbors over for dinner that night. They told us of how they had been driving- not too long ago- and a squirrel ran out in front of them on the road. They slammed the breaks, just in time.

The rodent paused, startled to awareness of its own mortality. It looked at them, almost as if to say ‘thank you.’ But the whole scene ended with a blur of feathers swooping down, snatching the squirrel in it’s talons. All that was left to do was watch creature’s desperate squirms as the hawk carried it over the tree line.

We had a good laugh at this, though that it sounds sick to admit. But what can we do? What is there to do in the face of the world but laugh? Giggle the way one might when their fiance leaves them standing at the alter. Laugh because it’s life. And sometimes it’s a damned, sick joke.

I once drank a beer that was brewed by some monks far up north. Strange, I said, I never thought I’d get a drink from a monastery.

Monks are practical people, my friend replied. God taught us to pray and we made beer.

There are some Christians who seem to take- too literally, I believe- the notion that we should not love the world, nor any of its desires, as John says. Desires- ἐπιθυμέω- a Greek verb that means to lust, crave, covet…ownership, possession, raping and pillaging the things of this world.

And I hope that I never lust for the world. I hope I can put away my camera at the Grand Canyon. I hope a Benjamin Franklin’s smile never looks as sweet as my wife’s. I hope the evening news always breaks my heart, like nails through my hands.

But I am not sure that I can trust tears from someone who has never laughed, laughed with the angels, Sarah aged and barren in her tent, with the Roman soldiers and the taunting Pharisees. Laugh because it is sick. But, ultimately, the joke’s not on them: oh death- where is thy sting?

And so I want to say is that the world is still horribly wonderful. I sit watching the snow fall and pushing in between the screen. And I cannot tell you how beautiful it is to see this desperate world closing in on me. For there’s a voice telling me: don’t push back. Really. Just give it a chance. The prettiest smile may be seen from the side of a hospital bed.

There are so many ways to live a good life- Marilynne Robinson said that. And I think this is grace. But a sure fire way not too- now this is Lewis, of course- is by locking your heart away in a warm corner. Safe from the terrible storm, safe from the world.

It’s snowing again tonight. Another blizzard moving in. The sound of the wind could be the heavenly host scaring the hell out of some poor shepherds. For all I know.

It’s snowing and cold.

I think I’ll go outside.

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One thought on “A Damned, Sick Joke

  1. “There are so many ways to live a good life- Marilynne Robinson said that. And I think this is grace.” Love this, Bryn. Been feeling bogged down by the darkness of everything, but this snow has been calming for me, too.

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