I continue to see my cat. A hat on the chair. We’ve placed a stuffed bear in one of the windows, so kids who walk around the neighborhood can go on a bear hunt and find the hidden bears in windows or lawns (I assume the latter would not be stuffed). Our cat would sit between the glass of the window and the blinds, dozing in the morning sun. I see him, momentarily, in the hat and the bear, before my thinking brain catches up to my roaming mind and tells me that this cannot be, because we buried the cat under a rock in the backyard, both as a marker and so the dog wouldn’t dig him up.
I’m reminded that I see the world out of habit. That is, I see what I’ve always seen before. This is true as I drive to work, as I go through my morning routine, as I answer emails. I become inured to the world around me. The quarantine of this coronavirus, then, is both a discipline in the medieval sense of the word — a punishment or scourging — and in the classical Latinate sense of the word: stemming from the word for instruction or learning. The former sense lands keenly on the front lines of those fighting the coronavirus, or on those who have lost jobs, are wracked by anxiety, fear, loneliness, and pain.
The latter is an invitation. I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna that denies the suffering around us, but I mean to be a realist: out of our vulnerability and pain something new is always born. The same is true simply from the discipline of staying at home, as a change in routine helps us see life from a fresh vantage. Such sights are instructive if we watch for them, if we pay attention to the new rhythms and fears and hopes springing up inside us and around us.
But even with new rhythms it is hard to see new things. Hence, the cat I keep seeing. Enter the role of the artist. Whether writer or painter or sculptor or dancer or actor or preacher or singer, our role is to point to what we see and amplify it, distill it, help others to take notice. Of course, this first must happen within ourselves, and this is why I write every day. Writing is a way of seeing. In fact, it is my way of seeing the world around me, of taking notice, of becoming awake.
For example, this morning. We attended church via Zoom, which is somewhat of a depressing experience. When I attend work meetings all week on Zoom, I want the physical presence of others as we engage in something spiritual and real and, ideally, a performance that ties us back to the true story and realities of our lives. Calling this a performance doesn’t cheapen it, for we always act out our stories, whether in pews or bleachers at a football game, and Jesus came acting as if he were the head of Israel, and John records how even on the cross he proclaimed his thirst so Scripture would be fulfilled. On one hand, you can claim a performance cheapens this act; on the other, I claim such a knowledge of all the stories before and the culmination of his own story made Jesus more aware of his place in it and what to do at that time.
But I’m straying from my point.
I didn’t “feel” spiritual or holy this morning, and I went through the motions: singing songs awkwardly over Zoom, listening to the homily. We came to the Eucharist, this climax of the service where we share the table. We had picked up bread the day before that had been baked by a deacon and blessed, bread that symbolized the work of the community. We didn’t have wine, because we had no way to safely share it. And in our living room, we broke the bread and we were intent on serving it to each other. I told Macia, our eight year old daughter, that this bread was the body of Jesus broken for her, because he loved her. She took her own piece and said to me, “This was the body of Jesus broken for you, because he loves you,” and she offered me the bread.
I act out the performance because, at some point, light will shatter in and show me the truth of it, even when I’m not “feeling” it, even when I’m tired and thinking what else I could be getting done. My eight-year old giving me bread was that moment: the innocence and smile as she learns her own place in the play.
But I wouldn’t have seen this moment without writing: without writing about my life in the days before and coming to the blank page now. The act of writing makes me more awake; it is an act of seeing. It solidifies the beauty of what happened; it helps me to see the shift inside myself, because without noting it and writing about it I may never have seen this shift at all. And if I don’t see it, the shift may as well not have even happened.