Liz and I celebrated my birthday at Mont Saint-Odile in Alsace. The nuns here are pretty quiet (har-har), but they were kind enough to let us stay with them. About ten years ago, this place was a full-fledged hotel/restaurant. It’s since been converted back to a convent, but hospitality is one of the nuns’ primary callings. They do it well.
They set up a table for us outside and cooked dinner. I had no idea, honestly, that they were going to do any of this. It was all Liz’s idea. I mean, I knew we were going to visit Mont Saint-Odile, but I guess it didn’t click in my mind that it would be my birthday when we were here.
Oh, before I forget: Today was the 103rd day of 365 in our “Journey Across the World.” That means we’ll be home in 242 days, if Olivia is counting. Anna and Trent, you can also tell her that Uncle Caleb and Aunt Liz are missing her very much (and all of the other nieces and nephews, too, of course!) and that I fully expect her to have finished all of the Lord of the Rings by then. I am going to quiz her. Tell her that.
Anyway, if you’re all interested (of course you are! It’s my birthday! You have to be interested), let me just give you a narration of everything we did today (on my birthday).
We drove out of Strasbourg (it was a bore; also, I apologize for the overuse of parentheses; and semicolons, too; it is past midnight and this is a letter and I don’t very much care for editing right now) at about seven this morning and then went straight to the convent here. The view here is beautiful.
Liz told the nuns here (did I say they were quiet?) that I love green bean casserole. They made it for me. And that about sums up what we did today on my birthday. Or all that matters, anyway.
I was able to talk to one of the nuns, Francine (sp?) and I was filled with an unusual longing, a longing I did not know was there. I was longing for the wonder I had of the world fifteen or so years ago. Let me just say that I love Liz and love my family and I do not want to go back. I am also not one to stay in the past. And I believe that every day is better than the last. I believe that I am a better person than when I was a teenager–but then why I am longing to go back there?
Maybe it was that I lived at home with Mom and Dad and Grace and maybe it is that if I went back, I would be able to communicate to them how much I appreciated them. And maybe it is that I have learned how to be responsibly drunk on the Holy Spirit and maybe it is that I have learned how to love someone without liking them–myself–and maybe it is that I have changed. And maybe it is that God has kept my faith through all the changes he has put me and the family through. How have I stayed orthodox and happily orthodox? The odds have been stacked against me since the day I started caring. Maybe I want to go back, because I know now that it only gets better and things get better even through all the deaths that accompany living more than one decade. I have had friends everywhere and have lost friends everywhere. I have lost good friends, good people. And somehow, even though the question of evil and suffering can sometimes come out of my mouth like I am nothing more than a skeptic, somehow God has never felt more present and more like a father.
Talking to Francine, I remembered that there was a time in my life when I wanted to be a monk. I mean, I really wanted to be a monk. I wanted to go into a monastery. I thought I was part of some new order born out of a broken culture with a broken cynicism. I thought I would be different. And if my fifteen-year-old self got a glimmer of who I am now at thirty, if he saw me, he wouldn’t like me. But I have learned how to love someone without liking them. I long to go and shock my old self into observation. Observe me! I was thinking with my arm around Liz. Stop living like life is nothing more than hope for the future! My God, if I knew how much the future was not like how I daydreamed it to be, I would have had nothing left to live for.
Over the years, I have found an irony growing deeper in me–growing, not like roots of a tree, but like a chasm splitting by the shifts of tectonic plates. I have never found how to resolve using my mind with longing for something that doesn’t yet exist. Sometimes, I just turn off my mind and look around and ask myself, “If there were no God, if there were no one to call father, how did all this get here?” and I look at the shoe-shelf and the couch and the pot of soup on the stove and I cannot see anything but a father that loves. And when someone is being an ass (or it is just a fictitious skeptic I invent for myself before bed) and shows me a picture of a starving child in Africa and asks me, “Where is God in his life?” I cannot answer in another way then, “Not where is God, where are you? And where are we? And why don’t we actually care? Why do we show these pictures to each other, why don’t we move there and shut our theoretical mouths?”
A lot of people say that Liz and I started the Blessed Poor ecumenical community out of guilty. I don’t very much care about what people living in affluence think about what we do. They can see us by our books and by our “hypocritical” journeys around the world we take, by I don’t rightly much care. We didn’t start it out of guilt or even out of judgment for people who do not start these sort of communities. And God works through affluence, too. We started it, because that is where our love drew us.
But it is so late. And my head hurts and I don’t think I am making much sense anyhow. And Liz is telling me to turn the computer off. But I love you all. I miss you all. And I am so excited to see you all in 242 days.
With much love,