It began to be strange how it all lined up. It was never a conscious choice, to end up behind a bar as a bartender. I got rid of a miserable job as a clerk so I could write in the day before I had to go bus tables at night. And they called me up one day, hey, why don't you. I was generally fairly sad back about a few things back then, so I said, sure, why not. Better money than bussing.
It seems like blasphemy to talk about it, but that's what they accused him of, questioning him, isn't it. 'Who are you? Behold a man gluttonous and a wine-bibber, who associates with publicans and sinners... " To which he has a response, central to his whole message, that he has come not for the healthy, but for the sick, for those in need of a cure.
That gives me a little bit of perspective when I look up from the bar over my duties, shuffling plates and glasses around, pouring glasses of wine, my little notepad in my breast pocket with a pen for dinner orders, and watch people and see what they are up to...
You go along with it, the party atmosphere. It's your job. "Sure, let's have a bloody good time, while we're at it." There are pleasures of the flesh and we are made of flesh. You can't divorce that from who we are, as social beings.
But when does it become excessive? I'd wind up seeing it often enough, waiting on the loud guy who's almost drunk, talking his politics. They spend money, buy another bottle of expensive wine to share with their friends, sure, it's within their rights.
But you sort of know that this wasn't really the point, the meaning of the job. I'd go home and try to calm the nerves the way I saw everyone else doing it, not really ever getting to the root of the issue, the basic meaning of work, the meaning of life. It's always a matter of interpreting the choices you've made. If you're just going along with at all at face value, yes, you get home and drink several glasses of wine. "You've earned it. It helps you calm down. It's good for your blood."
(The boss makes us work not just on Christmas Eve, as we've always done, but Christmas too. For money, not for family, otherwise I whose talents come from family and sit-down dinners of long ago could sit down at eat at my brother's table with my old man and my niece and nephew.)
I adjusted myself in the chair, leaning back some, and looked at her. I began a new angle.
If you're skeptical toward your own faith, then I suppose others will mirror that. No longer are we praying for each other, attempting to help each other. "Fine, if you're going to be dismissive about it and Jesus rising in the garden on Easter morn, than I will be so as well." I was the one who failed her, really, though it was never my intention. I was the big let-down as far as the faith I'd want to have, falling in with bad companions, getting distracted or drunk, and then I'd be ashamed of myself. And thus it was that we never got to talk in the end, to have some closure, some satisfaction that I"d at least presented myself as for who I truly was and the things in my heart and all that.
I suffered from a lack of confidence, yes, confidence in my deep beliefs. Because I was young, and unsure of myself, and those beliefs are a lot to take on, you know, when you've got a career to figure out on your plate...
Yes, in a rational age, who is going to believe that he has taken in the form of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and all its truth? Me? Who am I? I can't perform any miracles, I can't cure the sick, I don't spend time helping the poor. Aren't I just a regular human stuck being human in a particular time and place so why not just get along, keep up, stay with the basic fashions and issues of the day, don't stand out of line being weird.
But there is that part of you, the reader who reads. That's the significant part. The part that understands everything. A very sensitive part of a being, something you cannot lie to, that detects deeper things, that knows really how to wisely judge, even if that might not be all perfectly carried out, the observations, the making sense of them, 'til they beg for action. Or a stand of some sort.
That's the weird thing, that you really do find yourself in the very same circumstances as the people of the Gospels. At least imaginatively. How about that? Who wants to see that today? It would be totally off-issue, incomprehensible almost, seemingly barely worth mention.
But there you are with this growing intuition. For instance, being amongst the equivalent of publicans and sinners, clearly sometimes...
There is the subliminal worry, 'what if I carried through with it?' Where would it take me? To what craziness or idiocy or unemployable habits, and what would the reaction to it be on the part of authority and empire, your job, your health insurance. On up the line. Are you going to knock over of the money changer's tables in the temple one day, "my father's house you have made a den of thieves and wickedness..." Will you be betrayed in the garden one night and meet the same end as before... looking upon it all as a dream, not for the specifics, but to ponder the meaning of things.
And maybe, yes, therapy, a person to hear you out, that's all great. You remind me to not let negative thoughts have their reign. But might not psychology be as much a part of empire and that rational skeptical judgment, rather than the effort of find a sustaining truth in this world? Or rather, one has to find his truth and then abide by it, the values-based action we've been discussing here.
I let down my values once upon a time. I was a stupid kid. I let myself get isolated, like, senior year or so, not living with my good buddies down in the dorms, but up on the hill. But that was the past, and as you tell me, you know, no one's perfect, we all go through periods of whatever, wandering, experimentation, trying things out, or just bobbing along in the sea... The thing is it's a process and "through the awful grace of God" you find wisdom, and with wisdom some direction.
I stomach them, the mighty drinking faces, all the talk and excitement... And maybe I see in them the falseness, the pain caused by a secular society... Have I've groveled before them too much already?
And yet, there is his example, associating with publicans and sinners. He keeps company with them. And not only that; he calls them forth to join him, changing them, transforming them.
Well, I think most people I wait on would prefer their current occupation and their big paycheck, and I wouldn't have much in the way of guidance for them anyway. Money money money.
I rubbed my eyes.
First, I must take care of my own faith, my own atonement, my at-one-ment, with God, as a childlike mystical Christian, as I was born to be such, whatever happens. Maybe not much will happen. I'll continue to pretend I am a Dostoevsky.
But to be yourself, who you really are, not distracted, not compelled to do things against the will, that will only be good for my blood pressure, and my general health and sanity.
The day of my procedure had finally come, and afterward in my recover I sat out on the back deck in the sun. Warm out, the trees still green, some humidity in the air. I took off my tee shirt, perspiring gently. I imagined St. Francis, sick, recovering from an illness early in his career, a condition that helps him see things all that much clearer, if I'm reading the fresco in the little chapel of St. Anthony at St. Matthew's correctly. It takes illness, a break from the usual, to gain the perspective we are not, having fallen into the grind, able to see amidst all the assumptions and actions of normal survival. The knock is heaven-sent, a chance to read your father's old books, get some peace and quiet, meditate over things...
That was little brother's legacy, to be like that, not of the skeptical habit of my older brother who's an optimist in the world. I was always a bit childlike in comparison, more able to carry the flame of abstract faith. ("Did you see the pope," I asked as I laid back in hospital gown breathing deeply to calm my blood pressure. "On TV," he responded. "I went and played golf. A snow day without the snow.") He carries me through, though, the practicalities of this world, like when Dad passed away. And I feel as if I've grown so awkward, so much a William Blake type, that I seem to barely function at adult level here in this great town.
Am I too mournful and meek? I do have some kind of happiness to proclaim, that of finding my faith, of seeing through the darkness at last, light at the edge of a deep forest one was been wandering through without much compass or meaning, having too much wine and camaraderie instead of carrying the beautiful humble Christian faith....
It's said that the Church goes through the same things, the losses, the sufferings, the disbelief that Christ went through. Maybe that's it, that we come to find some meaning in the personal losses and sadnesses we endure through being made flesh, sinful, fallible such as we are, imperfect, in need of cure. If we had that perfect life as we might have imagined or projected, maybe we would have never come to that final very honest point in the present time of now. Shaken up, sick like St. Francis, then we reach out, tame the wolf, restore the church with a humble little stone chapel of our own.
Our vanity diminishes, along with all those vain little projects to entertain ourselves. It's a cleansing process.
Is that fiction? Is that worth writing or reading about? Who's to know, but that it's human.
A thing too private to say very much about, but that's you, still you, the original you as was made to be, as you walk around. Other people make fun of it, well, no big deal, some affection to that anyway.
But do we not all have a vision of him, the real person who was, is, the savior. The artistic eye is drawn to him, over and over again. Giotto. And he is sly, in a gentle way, and yields to our view when we look at him straightforward from our hearts. It's finally not about anything, any other person, but seeing him, seeing him in ourselves, seeing the possibilities of all he did. That's who we are, even as that identity or persona or whatever you'd want to call it might not seem to fit in so well.
When I saw what truly mattered, yes, a lot of things that had bothered me became details. Details of a story that was finally recognizable to me as far as its shape. And no longer myself to blame. Because by a certain scale, hey, we're all sinners, fallen Adams, people trying to get rid of all the pride. It can still hurt a lot, from time to time, but that's just part of the whole thing.
Did I ever think I could have such values? They are those of a dreamer, a child's, an idiot's... Where would I come up with audacity to claim a Christian life lived out in a mortal way...
And then I just wanted to get on with my work and stop all the tomfoolery. Put the drink aside, make it again a simple staple of life, not to be made any fancier than it is. Put the drinkers in perspective, who are merely drinking a purified form of water, sanitary in the Middle Ages.
I have come to the sinful, to those in need of a physician. Wist ye not...
"Tadzio, Tadzio," Madam Korbonski would often say to me as we sat at her little card table in her front room of books and papers and clutter of important stuff, pictures on the wall, "be serious, you must be serious." And then, inevitably, she'd laugh, as if she couldn't hold back from it, no longer able to put her serious point across without a little humor, or maybe a little joy. There was the calendar of John Paul II over by the hallway, not the only reference to him, and her tales of Lech Walesa, and of the little parish church up in Silver Spring. As much as I wanted to be a good Catholic, and went to Good Friday Mass with her, and drank a shot of vodka along with pickled herring on Christmas Eve with her, I don't know, it wasn't happening immediately or speedily, even if I might have wanted it to.
Be serious. How do you do that? Evidently she saw in me at least a glimmer of capability toward being serious, though she never seemed engaged when I brought up Dostoevsky, perhaps having prejudiced suspicion about anything Russian, though he was basically Lithuanian. And she did not want me to become a priest. "What a waste that would be," she told me, quite honestly. Her form of Christian mysticism included pleasures of the flesh and an honest life as far as basic urges and drives.
Boredom. That is the problem of modern life and all its choices. We think we are bored when we aren't really, when things really are pretty simple. We act like we're bored, do things, and all the while we're missing the quiet deep simple values that are always growing, always alive, simple Christian values, the golden rule, the need, the real need for a true spiritual life that of course is an evolution away from daily life and trying to pay the bills...
That's why there are The Gospels. Good news. A great relief from a selfish creature sitting around in the garden bored with himself, looking to do something bold and entertaining. The Gospels, to save us, to save us from ourselves, to keep a neat house and simple things of refinement.
She saw something in me, something serious, a potential, maybe to be amongst the most serious of all, not just the frivolous. I thought about her and a smile of hers, in agreement, seemed to come from somewhere beyond down on local airs.
Of course, of course one wants to be serious. Who, ultimately, shows us how to do that? What figure, what role model do we have? But that person who understands everything.
Twenty five years behind a bar... That wasn't a bad set-up, a bad foundation, actually. There were parts of it to overcome, certain kinds of bad habits, but those bad habits were the result of being misaligned, not fully aware. Those years happened because of the same overall intuition, inexplicable, but having something to do with something, some wish to eavesdrop, as it were, on the early acts of Christ, in which men found themselves together, women too, awaiting a higher calling. I knew of no way to get closer than that, than what I did. And it was all quite real, even if not all of it, of course, could be remembered in detail.
It was actually all quite perfect, now that I had a chance to think about it with a clear mind with some distance from it.
Could it stand up to outside logic and cold analysis? Nothing can, though, really.
Sometimes we fake people by trying to be more than we are, which comes out of a wish to belong. We put on a show of being better off than we are. By doing so, in many ways, we put on an act different than who we really are, as if through a desire to mitigate our individuality, our difference, our eccentricity from the pack of successful people out engaged with the world where we sit home and quietly write. But this can really make us less than we are, can take our better identities away from us and hide our gifts as if there were no place for them in the real world.
(Gandhi and Dorothy Day, I just read in a book about Teresa of Avila, wrote by fits and starts, hodgepodge, in a way of responding to whatever the issue was that was in from of them, not some carefully planned premeditated tract... Good to know.)