"He said, 'The trouble is I have always been able to imagine almost anything. It has been my downfall.' It had also been his strongest suit...It was what led him to be a writer or, as he preferred to put it sometimes, a 'delusionist,' which struck him as less pretentious. He saw himself as a man who wrote because he couldn't think of anything else to do with his delusions."
from The Storm by Frederick Buechner
It was the cape’s fault. Well, really it wasn’t a cape, it was a towel. But really it was a cape. A cape that propelled him off the orange paisley couch, up through the roof, and into the stars. A cape that transformed him from a hyperactive seven year old to a superhero. Only he didn’t really make it to the stars, not even to the roof. He made it a few inches of the couch and then his arch nemesis gravity took over. Down to the floor he plummeted, cape swinging behind, towel just catching the side of the lamp, lamp crashing to the floor behind our caped hero.
And that’s when the yelling began. It was mom yelling about the lamp, that was to be expected. But then there was more yelling. It was hard to understand at the decibel level and tones they were speaking. But it seemed to be dad yelling at mom about yelling about the lamp, mom yelling back about dad never being there, dad yelling more about mom yelling and never understanding. Then dad started yelling in Spanish and mom started yelling because she didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t appreciate him cursing her in another language.
Once again our hero finds strength in his cape. He pulls the towel tight around him, trying to block out the yelling. Trying to hide his crying. But most importantly, trying to pull together his home and his family. Surely a cape with such wonderful powers could do that. A cape that has the power of flight and gives strength to its diligent hero. Surely a cape that strong could bind together three people who belonged together. Three people who should above all else love each other. But no matter how hard and how tight he pulled the cape, the yelling continued.
Finally, he pulled with all his strength and let out a yell, a cry of desperation as he pulled the cape tighter with all his strength. Then followed a sound of shaking cabinets filled with pots, and pans. Glasses began to shake and the yelling finally stopped. The yelling turned to frightened exhales as the walls began to slowly vibrate. Then a sound that surpassed them all. A single glass shattering and pieces spraying across the floor. Then just as quickly as the sound came, utter silence.
We both see the same when we look up
A vast expanse of impressionless blue
That we can reach toward but never touch
And I have trouble believing
In a faith that falls
Like water from the sky
But they say we could use the rain
Now it looks like a storm is coming
They say we should build a boat
But I lack the proper tools and skills
And I know you don’t believe
In a doubt that falls
Like water from the sky
But they say we could use the rain
Somehow the flood still leaves me dry
Longing for a drop to quench
My parched and trying tongue
And they say grace can fall
Like water from the sky
God I hope so
We sure could use the rain
I’ve owned a record player for a few years but I still put the needle down gently, insecurely, afraid to scratch the fragile vinyl and bulldoze through the precious grooves. My record collection is not vast by any means. In fact, I try to be intentional about records I buy. I try to only buy classic records, records I love, or new records from my favorite artists that I know I will love.
One of my favorite artists, David Berkeley, recently wrote a great post about vinyl and he got me thinking about it again. He reminded me of the unique feeling of watching something as tactile as a needle running across small vinyl hills create the sonic landscape of a great album. He talked about how odd and miraculous it seemed to hear his own voice and instruments emerge from those hallowed grooves. He admitted that in an age of technology and digital music when ease and immediacy reign supreme, vinyl is often the antithesis of that. But he points out that part of the beauty of it is that it’s harder, it’s more intentional, it’s more fragile.
I bought David’s (I don’t know him personally, so I feel like I shouldn’t just use his first name, but then again, his music feels so personal that it feels oddly formal to refer to him any other way) most recent album, Fire in My Head, on vinyl a few months ago. Ironically, within a few spins, I bumped my turntable and scratched the record. It now sadly skips over a line in the chorus, but the sound is still so much more real and vibrant than the perfect digital copy that I also own.
I was mulling over all of this tonight while playing another vinyl album—The Carpenter, the most recent offering by The Avett Brothers (another one of my favorite bands). Sadly this album also has a scratch on it (I swear that this is rare and I try to take good care of my records). This album is scratched on the last chorus right around where the brothers are singing “If I live the life I’m given, I won’t be scared to die.”
That line always challenges me—as does much of their music. It reminds me that I need to try to live life to its fullest and not be too scared of failure or mistakes. A life not fully lived is like a stack of mint condition vinyl records that have never been played. It may be free of some scratches and bruises, but it has not lived up to its full potential or brought the joy that it was intended to bring.
And maybe that’s what I like most about vinyl. It’s not easy, it’s not convenient, it’s fragile and has to be cared for intentionally. Eventually it’s going to get scratched up and weathered and may not work as well as it once did. In fact, I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that vinyl records are a hell of a lot like life.
In my last two posts, I have talked about my thoughts on the word “home” and what it means to own a home. I compared it to the resting peacefulness of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings and the stalwart escapism of Walworth from Great Expectations. I pointed out that while I find great beauty in these metaphors, I feel that in the end they fall short, as metaphors so often do.
The last model of home I would like to talk about is from the book Watership Down and probably most resembles the home in which I was raised. Watership Down is about a group of rabbits who leave their burrow and journey to start another burrow far away. If you think this sounds incredibly boring and strange—as I once did—I highly recommend you read it. It’s a very intriguing book. Anyway the Warren is the name of their burrow. The Warren is first and foremost a place of protection. It is a place where they hide from dogs, humans, and other dangers. Again this is a good picture because home should be a place of protection, but my primary concern here is the motivation behind the need for protection.
I was raised in a super conservative Christian home, and our home was largely looked on as a safe place, but one of the primary motivations behind that was fear. One of the basic tenants of our religion was that man is innately evil, so we were raised to be wary of others, particularly, those who didn’t believe the way we did, which was about 99% of the world. We were cautiously allowed to play with the neighbor’s kid, and once or twice a year I may have had a friend over or I went over to their house. Much of this was limited because we didn’t want to be “tainted by the world”. We were afraid that if we hung out with people who did not believe like we did, it would tarnish us and what we believed. Our home was to be a place void of such evil.
Again, this is a good concept that is just taken to the extreme. Home should be a place of protection and a place that is a foundation of what is good. The good you experience in your home should help you deal with all the bad in the world. But to think that you can hole up in your house and be protected from all evil is naive and dangerous. For one thing, it causes you to focus so much on the evils of others that you are often blind to your own evils. And if you are ever really honest with yourself, you have to admit the evil inside you can be just as frightening—if not more so—as the evil outside.
Also, hiding in your house and trusting it as your protection keeps you from seeing all the good in the world around you. Good in people, places, and ideas that you are trying so hard to avoid and to protect yourself from because you believe they are evil. If there is one idea that has resonated with me in recent years, it is that you should never give into something when fear is your primary motivation.
These are the things I have learned about home and these are the things I believe. Home should be a place of peace and reflection, a fortress and a place of retreat, a safe and protective place that is a foundation for all the good in your life. But it also should be a place open to adventure and innovation, a place where you let the your private life fuel your public life, a place that is open to others and a place where fear cannot control. That’s a lot of expectations for one place and there is honestly no way one place could ever live up to it. But it is something we should strive for because above all else, home is whatever you make of it.
It’s a dangerous thing to attempt to own anything. More often than not, it ends up owning you. The Bible states it this way “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The things you love and cherish can change you and make you a different person.
These thoughts came to mind when thinking on our recent purchase of a home and my thinking through what home should be (see my previous post here)
I am reading a book just recently put out by one of my previous college professors (I will probably post about this book later) and she reminded me of one of my favorite settings in one of my favorite novels, Great Expectations. There is a bit character named Wemmick who is the clerk for the lawyer of the main character, Pip. Wemmick lives in a unique house in Walworth outside of London. Dickens describes the house as being a small cottage that has been renovated to look like a castle. There are large guns on the roof, a flag flying, and a small drawbridge. Wemmick takes great pride in his little castle and gladly shows it off to Pip.
The idea of a home as a castle is again a beautiful picture. Your home should be a fortress, a place where the outside troubles cannot penetrate, where one can retreat from all pressure and worries. However, again, I feel this metaphor falls a little short of what a home should be.
My professor, Dr. Prior, points out that Walworth as a castle is more than just a place of retreat, it is a place where Wemmick is a different person. In Walworth, Wemmick gives Pip some friendly, personal advice and is very open to him. As they leave Walworth, Wemmick retreats to his former professional nature and at one point even tries to explain to Pip that there is a vast difference between the man he is at home and the man he is at work.
Dr. Prior points out that this is a great symbol of the modern person. We live such compartmentalized lives. We have our coworkers, our family and different groups of friends and we can be vastly different people around each. Your house can easily become not only a place of safety, but a place that cuts you off from the rest of the world.
While we all need alone time, and a place when we can just be ourselves and feel comfortable, it is dangerous for our life to be compartmentalized to the extent that our home life is that drastic from our life outside of it. It’s so easy to get in the routine of going home and cutting yourself off from the world, but it is something that must be guarded against. Home should be a place of retreat, but that retreat should fuel who we are outside of home and not further divide us.
My wife, Charity, and I just recently took the giant plunge into adulthood and bought our first house. We might be a little late, seeing how we are in our early 30’s and most of our friends our age have a house, three kids, and a minivan. But then again we’ve never been very conventional. In fact we’ve moved around eight times over three states in the nine years of our marriage, so the argument could be made that we’re more than a little shiftless. But after much deliberation and a little looking, we found a cute little two bedroom place on the edge of the suburbs of Chicago and decided to put down our roots.
While moving in, we were discussing what we should name our house. Charity has a propensity for naming things. She once named our Christmas tree—a Scottish pine—Scotty McPineston. Admittedly, I have this tendency as well. So, of course, our house must have a name.
The name our friend Eric came up with may have taken ridiculous names to a whole new level. “Parrish Hilton” is what he suggested and it still kind of angers me how clever the name is. But it was too ridiculously perfect to resist and so that is what our place is called.
This got me thinking about names and what a home should be, specifically what I wanted my home to be. It made me think of some of my favorite places in literature and film and which of them would best mirror what I wanted of our home. However, every place I thought of seemed to fall short in one way or another. Over the next few posts, I’ll share a few of my thoughts with you.
Rivendell is one of my favorite places in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you’ve never seen the movies or read the books, Rivendell is one of the cities of the elves that is visited a few times throughout the stories. It is a beautiful, peaceful place and it is a place that they always seem to visit before or after a great adventure.
There’s a lot about Rivendell that is beautiful and perfect for a home. It is safe and peaceful, a place for planning and reflection, a place to rest and recover in a cruel, harsh world. These are all attributes we seek out in a home, and yet there is something missing. While Rivendell is a beautiful and much needed place to visit throughout the stories, it seems like it would be kind of a boring place to live.
Like I said Rivendell is mostly a place that is visited between adventures. It is a place where wounds are healed and stories are retold. But it is not necessarily a place where adventures are made. While a home in the suburbs may not be the most adventurous idea in the world, I would like to think it is not completely void of adventure. I want my home to be peaceful and reflective but I also want it to be a place where we leave room for some unexpected risk and some innovative creations.