"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
I was raised to fear the darkness
And the monsters in the unfamiliar
Our rules were our security
The end reward our safety net
But the devil moves in mysterious ways these days
And can just us as easily be found in the habitual
In the upright and prestigious
In the mirrored halls of self-righteousness
As in the brothels of indifference
I was taught to question reason
When elevated and worshipped above all other gods
To the exclusion of the mystic belief in the unseen
But the devil moves in mysterious ways these days
And is often found in the bastions of unfounded surety
In the persistent denial of all doubt
In a truth rearranged and manipulated
By an unmovable set of presuppositions
I was taught to avoid “the others”
Those who I was told did not seek the right
Those whose moral compass surely could not find north
But the devil moves in mysterious ways these days
His claws are often found in the corners of my heart
Prone to wander from the truth
But I’ve found that not all who wonder are lost
Those in the darkness have often provided the only light I could see
I’ve learned not to trust my preconceptions
I’ve learned that the devil moves in mysterious ways
And also that perhaps he is not the only one
A couple of years ago, I introduced one of my good friends, Ryan, to one of my favorite bands—The Avett Brothers. He later told me that they were good, sad, lonely music and he liked to listen to them when he was lonely. To be sure they have their share of heartache and soul wrenching emotion in their music; it’s one of the reasons I love them. Ryan then asked me if they were what Charity and I listened to when we were lonely.
He meant it as a joke, inferring that since we were married we surely were never lonely. However, any married person would tell you that is a ridiculous notion. Marriage or any committed relationship is not the end of loneliness. In fact, one thing I’ve learned from marriage it is that your loneliness is too big of a burden for one person to bear and they were never meant to. Being in a strong, committed relationship ideally means that you are never truly alone but it doesn’t mean that you are never lonely. Sometimes it just means that you are a little lonely together. I can vouch that can make some really bad times really good times and it makes feeling lonely quite a bit better. But you can still feel like you’re a couple of people who don’t really have anyone else in the world.
I was reading an article the other day about technology and how it is supposed to make us more connected but in reality it doesn’t. Of course, I’ve heard this idea a lot and I’ve never really been sure to what extent it was true. Anyway, one of the main ideas in the article wasn’t necessarily that technology made us more lonely but that it made us more inept at dealing with solitude. The author talked about how our phones and gadgets are always with us and with them comes the expectation that we should be using them to text, Facebook, tweet, or blog. Like we feel that if we’re holding our phone in our hand but are not actually communicating on it, there’s something wrong with us.
The article intrigued me because I recognize that propensity in myself. The more time i spend with my electronics, the more I feel that I should be using them. They become a crutch more than a tool. I’m aware of the irony of writing this on my iPad at midnight to share across multiple social networks when I should be sleeping or at least letting my brain wind down. And I also realize that I should probably just have this conversation with some good friends over some coffee. I probably will do that actually.
I used to be better with alone time. I would even crave it at times. I consider myself a bit of an introvert and have always been ok with just me and a good book or a basketball or a keyboard. Then I went through a period of time when alone time was lonely and I got depressed by myself. I felt like if someone wasn’t constantly communicating with me that they didn’t like me. It sounds kind of pathetic I know and the weird thing is that I’ve always been a pretty self-confident, self-reliant guy. It was strange to feel like this different person who was so codependent.
I can’t help but wonder if the technology I’m using is feeding into that feeling. I don’t think the conclusion to that is that technology is bad, and that’s not what the article was saying. I think we tend to put an unnecessary weight on things that were never meant to hold them. Things were never meant to fulfill us and there parts of us that will sometimes not feel completely fulfilled.
I’m in a pretty good place these days with friends I hang out with on a regular basis, a few close confidants I can share my struggles with, and enough stuff on my calendar to keep me busy. My wife and I even live with three good friends. I shouldn’t struggle with loneliness. But I still struggle with solitude sometimes.
But I’m beginning to think that’s ok. That it’s ok to be lonely and be alone and that it’s even necessary sometimes. That maybe instead of fighting it by texting or tweeting or planning a get together because I want to feel like I have friends and am well liked, maybe I should just trust that I do and I am.
I’ve been realizing that I should take comfort in solitude rather than try to fight it. I should occasionally put down the electronics and with them the need to constantly be “connected” and remember to take in the world around me. It may even mean turning off The Avett Brothers’ beautiful melancholia of being “as nowhere as I can be” and being content with the way things are. I don’t think it will necessarily be easy but it’s not always supposed to be. Some of the most beautiful things in life are really all about the struggle. Sometimes solitude feels like a fortress and sometimes it feels like a prison. The difference is often just perspective.
Clive walked into an unmarked building with an open door. The building was his best approximation to the address he was looking for but he saw no building numbers on the whole block, so it was really just his best guess. There were several people walking in and out of this building as opposed to the rest of the buildings which seemed abandoned long ago, so it made sense.
Clive walked through the door and past several clumps of people milling about, talking and joking and a few playing cards. The place had an unusual scent about it. It was a strange mixture of bleach, body odor, and roasting chicken. He was expecting to find an office of some sort or some type of desk but he just saw people that he would normally classify as “street people” who seemed to not even recognize the upper middle class guy who had entered the room.
Clive followed the more appealing scent of roasting chicken into what appeared to be the kitchen. Again, he didn’t see anyone who he could undoubtedly classify as “in charge”. A young lady with his back to him was mopping the floor.
“Excuse me,” Clive said hesitantly as the lady turned. “Is this the soup kitchen?”
The lady smiled as if he had made a joke, “I suppose you would call it that. Can I help you with something?”
“I’m looking for the lady that runs it. I believe her name is Brigid.”
Clive was startled. After this extended investigation and search for her, he didn’t expect to stumble upon her like this. She also was nothing like what he expected. Looking her up and down, he would not classify her with the rest of the down-and-outers that were in the place, but he also wouldn’t guess she was an eccentric ex-heiress who ran a charity organization.
Also, she wasn’t as beautiful as he expected. He didn’t think that in a superficial way, it was just that she was constantly described to him as a ravishing beauty. She had shoulder length curly hair that she had mostly pulled back, she wore no makeup and had no facial features that instantly stood out. She wore a simple outfit of jeans and a t-shirt that again didn’t bring any specific attention to itself.
Clive apparently had stared at her without an answer for longer than was normal because Brigid was smiling broadly as she repeated, “Can I help you with something?”
“Yeah,” Cive finally stuttered. “Sorry, it’s just that I have been looking for you for a while and I just wasn’t expecting…”
“Weren’t expecting what?” Brigid asked sarcastically. “And why have you been looking for me?”
“Sorry. No, it’s not like that or anything,” Clive chuckled at how it must sound but Brigid still didn’t seem amused. “Let me start over. My name is Clive Stapleton and I’m a reporter.” Usually this would incite some interest or even flattery on people, but Brigid continued to stare at him like a teacher waiting for a student to explain a late paper. “You gave my friend a note.” Brigid finally smiled as if everything was now explained for her. She extended her hand in greeting.
Clive had mostly regained his composure but was still unsure of how to proceed. He had known that he would eventually find her but now that he had, he didn’t know what to do. This did not seem to bother Brigid at all, she simply went back to work and even asked him to help her by carrying some groceries back to the pantry behind the kitchen.
“Can I ask you some questions?” Clive asked as he assisted her.
“I imagine you will. “
Her answer and tone seemed blunt and direct but it was strangely not offensive, it even seemed kind in its own way.
Now that Clive had his moment, he was unsure what to ask. One word was all that came out: “Why?”
“Excuse me?” Brigid stopped working to look at him.
“Why do you do this? The notes, the random acts of kindness, this charity work, what makes you do it?”
“I would say the better question is: why wouldn’t I do this? Why don’t you do this?” Again it was a direct question but Clive felt no judgment or disdain in it.
“Are the stories true?”
“All sorts of crazy stories. They say that you gave away things like cars and tables and that you can turn water into beer.”
“Stories are usually true enough to those who have faith.”
“So, is that a yes?”
“Life is rarely about yes and no.”
“Then what is life about?”
She paused and looked at him as if this was the first worthwhile thing he had said. “Faith. Belief. And this.” She motioned around her as if enveloping all the kitchen and the people and the building with her answer.
She smiled as she said this and Clive saw the beauty for the first time. The beauty by which many people had defined her. He saw it in her smile and her determination and her eyes—for the first time he really looked into her eyes and they seemed to reach into his soul and stir something.
“You see,” Brigid began as she stepped closer to him. “There’s a lot of rhetoric out there about right and wrong, good and best, yes and no. The people asking those questions and debating their answers aren’t actually affected by them. They have the luxury of asking such questions.” She motioned to the room around them. “These people don’t ask these questions, not often. Their questions are more rudimentary and necessary. They wonder where the next meal is coming from, how they’re going to treat the flu they are sure to get out on the streets. This is life, Mr. Stapleton.”
Though Brigid’s conversation was philosophical and intense, she said everything with a calculated pragmatic tone. Clive thought of how Father Patrick had spoken with notes of mysticism and ambiguity. Brigid’s words were filled with the same ideas but were direct and down to earth.
Brigid broke her stance as a philosopher and teacher just as quickly as she had taken it. “It’s time to eat. Won’t you stay with us?”
If you’d like to start at the beginning of the story, find it here:
The leaves fall from the trees like lyrics from on high
Left to be gathered and arranged
Or scattered and remain
A broken piece of art or a well-inscribed poem
Or perhaps both, who knows.
The prophet of Jah sings songs of freedom into the microphone
Redemption songs sift through the headphones.
While the box blinking red and blue
Calls for change and promises hope,
Both simultaneously, while somehow diametrically in opposition
We long for both, but trust only that the promises are false.
Still I cling to what remains: the earth, the sky,
The trees in their consistent state of change,
Of death and resurrection, rest and renewal,
The Son who once proclaimed that all we need is love.
So I seek to give myself and my love away.
Like the leaves that fall like lyrics from on high
Left to be gathered and arranged
Or scattered and remain.
I had a plan and even wrote it down
With plots and subplots made of hopes and dreams
And a cast of characters to flesh out the scenes
Then you dropped a grenade and everything changed
And I was left wondering what to do with the remains
So I adapted, I contracted, and counteracted and finally redacted
I rolled with the punches and tried to rewrite the story
I got a fresh page and a bottle of ink
But before my outline was drying
These new hopes were dying and the new life was trying
And all I want to do is drop a grenade
So everything changes and I can rewrite with whatever remains
But sometimes demolishing is not the answer
And change can be its own form of cancer
When you feel the time has come to pack and move on
Sometimes familiarity writes a sweeter song
And drops a grenade on the idea of change
And the most comforting, strongest, and bravest refrain
Is a recurring melody that calls to remain.
Clive walked through the ornate doorway of the cathedral. He stood back for a minute taking in the elaborate vaulted ceilings and intricate stonework. The building was obviously over one hundred years old and was gorgeous yet stoic in the way only old churches can be. The room was completely empty except for an old man sitting in the front row.
Clive wasn’t sure if he was supposed to cross himself or something as he walked down the aisle. His only real church experience was as a kid and a few weddings and funerals as an adult. Whenever he entered one he still felt the childish fear that he was going to do something wrong and get in trouble for it.
Clive walked up to the front row and sat down at the end of the pew a few seats away from the old man. The old man was staring motionless in front of him. Clive wasn’t sure if he was praying but if he was it was the most untraditional praying he had ever seen. He didn’t bow his head or kneel on the knee rest in front of them. Instead he stared at the statue of Jesus in front of him as if in a trance.
“What do you seek?” Clive was still staring at the old man but hardly saw his lips move as he said that. The old man’s gaze did not leave the Jesus statue in front of them.
Clive was taken aback by the question and the manner in which it was asked. “Excuse me? I…I’m looking for father…”
“I am he,” the old man interrupted quickly as if he was anticipating the Clive’s answer, still the old man’s gaze did not shift.
Clive took a new look at the old man. He had a thick white beard and slightly disheveled hair. He wore no clerical collar and while his clothes were not exactly tattered they were definitely not the elaborate suits of the clergy Clive had seen before. In fact the old man could pass for a homeless man much sooner than a priest.
Clive doubted whether the man was being truthful but decided to play along. “I’m looking for Brigid Kildare.”
The old man turned to look at him for the first time. He smiled and Clive thought his face looked twenty years younger. “You mean the lady with the curly hair and piercing eyes?”
Of course this description was very subjective and could describe any number of women but still Clive was struck with surprise that the old man might just know who he was looking for and may indeed be the priest he wanted to talk to.
“Yes,” Clive replied. “Have you seen her recently.”
“No,” the old man said with a strange chuckle as he looked off as if remembering something far in his past. “No, not recently.”
“When did you see her last?”
“I saw her in person a few years ago,” it seemed a strange way to answer the question but then this old man seemed strange. “She came to me and said she wanted to help me. That she wanted to help me minister to the outcasts.”
The old man paused. Clive felt like he was going to have to struggle to wrangle this story out of the old man. “So, did she?”
“I told her she already had,” the old man spoke with an amusing twinkle in his eye as if he just told a very old joke. “I told her that there were more outcasts than these.” The old man motioned at the window as if the outcasts were looking in at them.
“So, she didn’t stay and work with you?”
“No, she never did. I didn’t think she could. We never were of the same age,” the cryptic way the old priest spoke was as compelling as it was frustrating. He spoke in a way that sounded old yet current. Like he was a man that belonged to a time long ago or maybe belonged to no time at all.
“Do you know where she went?”
“There were rumors of a beautiful lady working with the outcasts on the south side of the city. They claimed she could turn bathwater into beer.”
“What?” even as bizarre as the story had been that last part took Clive by surprise.
The old man just smiled with that sparkle in his eyes. “You don’t believe? It would not be the first time.”
Clive just shook his head and smiled. As crazy as this old man seemed, he couldn’t help but like him. “You don’t know how to get ahold of her then? Or where exactly she is?”
“No,” the old man said thoughtfully. “Our time is over. It was never meant to be.”
Clive chuckled out loud despite himself. “Well thanks for your help. And it was father…”
“Patrick,” the old man smiled.
“Patrick,” Clive repeated. It was the name of the priest he had been looking for. Perhaps this old man was not crazy after all. He extended his hand to shake the priest’s.
Father Patrick grabbed his hand in both of his. He looked Clive in the eyes. “The peace of Christ be with you.”
Clive remembered this from his few childhood church experiences. “And also with you.”
The old man turned abruptly and resumed staring at the statue as if their conversation had never happened. Sitting there watching him, Clive felt like he glimpsed the mystery and awe that he always believed was supposed to be present in religious experiences. Clive left feeling like maybe this had been the first time he had ever been in church.
If you’d like to start at the beginning of the story, find it here:
Or continue on to part 7 here:
Clive showed up at the specified time to find the maid in every day clothes sitting at a table waiting for him. She looked much different outside of her maid’s uniform, or maybe just outside of her maid’s position. Probably because Clive hadn’t really thought of her as an identity at the house, but here she looked like the girl next door. She was actually a beautiful girl wearing a light sundress. She smiled and waved at Clive as he walked in the door.
“Well, hello,” Clive said with a chuckle. “I guess we didn’t really meet. My name is Clive.”
“Marie,” the maid replied as she gave him her firm handshake again. She laughed a little at the situation. “Sorry to be all ‘secret agent’ about this, but I couldn’t help but overhear your questions about Brigid and I wanted to talk to you but had to do it away from the house.”
“No worries. I appreciate you talking to me. I wasn’t getting much out of Mr. Kildare.”
“Yeah I wouldn’t expect that,” Marie spoke with a calm confidence that Clive would not normally have expected from someone of her position. Granted, growing up middle class he had never really had much occasion to interact with servants. “First, can I just ask why you are asking about Brigid?”
“Well, it’s kind of a long story.”
“Have you seen her? How is she?” Marie asked this with notable concern.
Clive explained that he had not seen her and told the brief story that led him to seek out Brigid’s past. Marie listened intently, laughing knowingly at a few mentions of Brigid’s exploits.
“That’s good to hear,” Marie said when he finished. “I think about her often and wish I was still in touch with her.”
“Were you two close then?”
“Yes and no,” Marie answered with some deliberation. “I don’t feel like anyone can be that close to Brigid, she’s just so…I’m not sure what the word is…she is just on a different plane than anyone I know.”
“In what way?”
“In every way really. She thinks about things differently than anyone I’ve ever met. Knowing her you feel like she cares about you as much as anyone could and yet there’s a distance there. Like you know she cares about everyone in that way so that means your relationship isn’t incredibly close because of it.”
Clive felt somewhat mesmerized by the way she talked about Brigid, like he wasn’t sure whether he was more fascinated with Brigid herself or with other’s perception of her.
“But yes, we were friends for years,” Marie continued in a nostalgic tone. “I first started working for the Kildares as a young girl and Brigid and I are around the same age. I was there for most of the drama that led her to where she is now.”
“What drama? Does this have to do with the engagement?” Finally, Clive felt like he was getting somewhere.
“Well it never really was an engagement per se,” Marie seemed to choose every word as if she had an exact meaning she wanted to be careful to convey. “ It was kind of her father’s last attempt.”
“Last attempt at what.”
“At her. At anything,” Marie paused and took a deep breath like she was about to dive off a cliff. “So, Brigid went to law school originally. She was…I mean, is…brilliant. She’s always been a really smart girl. She’s also always had compassion toward people less fortunate than her. Which is, you know, pretty much everybody.
Clive chuckled. “Yeah, I saw their house.”
“Right. But she’s especially always had a heart for the real down and out types—the homeless, addicts, criminals even. It’s like she always wanted to rescue them and give them the life they never had.”
“Like a Mother Theresa syndrome or something?”
“Maybe. But I never doubted that her motives were anything other than completely pure. And it’s not like she ever got anything out of it. She wouldn’t let anyone know she was doing it.” The admiration in her voice was evident. “Anyway, she went to law school with the idea that she could rescue these helpless, hopeless people. But for some reason she hated it.”
“She would say that she didn’t like the studying or the teachers or a dozen other reasons. But I always suspected that she just didn’t feel right unless she was doing something.” Marie spoke like she was confiding important information. “I think she felt that law school was too philosophical and theoretical when she felt like she could accomplish more by just going down to the local soup kitchen. So that’s what she did. She got so involved in social work that her grades started failing and her dad made her come home.”
“What did he have in mind for her at home?”
“I think he just wanted to have her near because he thought he could control her. Rich men always do, you know? Anyway she came home and he tried to practically force her into society. He would make me accompany her to parties she couldn’t care less about and on dates she was totally uninterested in.” Marie laughed at the memory. “She would sometimes have me flirt with her dates, just to make them uncomfortable so they wouldn’t come back. She just hated it.”
“So, if that’s the way she treated her dates, how was she almost engaged?”
“Well, she wasn’t really. The funny thing is those rumors spread but those two never actually dated. They had barely met.” Marie leaned in to tell this part of the story. “Her dad more or less arranged for them to date because he wanted to merge their companies. And the other company needed it, badly.”
Clive could tell Marie was getting to the real crux of the story. “So, her father took her over to see the guy for the first time as a “date”. It was pathetic really. Like some arranged marriage from a fairytale.” Marie rolled her eyes from remembrance. “Anyway, so they went over to meet this guy and her father went to talk to him and left her in the car. While he was in there and she was waiting, a homeless person came up to ask for money.” Marie smiled like a comedian delivering a punchline. “And she gave him her father’s car?”
“What? Are you serious.”
“Yep, a homeless guy came up to ask for money and she gave him the car right there.”
“Wow. How did her dad take it?”
“Oh, he was furious of course. He came down with the ‘suitor’ and she was standing on the corner and the car was gone. When she said that she gave it away, he just lost it. Right in front of both of them. Brigid looked at the guy and told her that she would do the same with his stuff.”
“So that was the end of that relationship, huh?”
“Yeah. I mean like I said it hadn’t even really begun, but yeah that was as close to an engagement as Brigid ever got.”
“So, what happened after that?”
“Her father kicked her out,” Marie said matter-of-factly. “Or she ran away. However, you want to look at it. She hasn’t been home since.”
Clive sat back thoughtfully, taking in all the new information.
“Have you heard from her since then?” he asked.
“No, the last I heard of her was that she went to see a priest who does a lot of charity work uptown. But I haven’t heard anything else besides what you told me today.”
Clive got what information she had about the priest and stood to leave.
“Thank you so much for talking to me.”
Marie extended her hands but not to shake his. She held his hands lightly in hers as if they were old friends or lovers. Clive was taken back by the gesture which felt oddly intimate—there’s that word again, he thought.
“When you find her,” Marie finally said after what seemed like a long time holding hands. “Give her my love and tell her that she means more to me than she could ever know.”
Clive thought he understood the hand-holding gesture now: it was Marie’s way of showing Brigid affection vicariously through him. What strange power this lady wields over people, he thought.
“I will. Thank you,” he squeezed her hands in a way that seemed comforting. “I’ll keep in touch if I hear anything from her.”
Marie smiled, her face transcendent. “I would like that.” Clive said a final goodbye and walked away. This story continued to move him in a way that few others had.
If you’d like to start at the beginning of the story, find it here:
Or continue on to part 6 here: