Betty Duffy

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hunger and Thirst

I used to clean house for one of my college professors who had floor to ceiling bookshelves in almost every room. Most days when I cleaned, no one was home, and I would pick a CD out of his music collection to play while I dusted or folded laundry. I remember standing on a chair to dust in some high place when the Borodin Quartet, playing Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G Minor, reached its climax in the first movement.

The piece was a revelation to me, and I thought to myself that someday, somewhere, I had to go to wherever it was that that music lived. I'd never heard such exultation in pain, such thirstiness, such suffering and salve combined into one. I've always been susceptible to other people's angels and demons in music, and the combination of both in Shostakovich convinced me that those notes held the secret to life.

Several months ago, in anticipation of my husband and mine's anniversary, I got to thinking again about going where the music is, or at least, about "going" as salve to suffering--having some place to look forward to going as a means of making it through the day in which I lived--and I bought concert tickets, not to Shostakovich, but to Iron and Wine, which is a folk-rock band that my husband and I both love.

I always know I'm in trouble when anticipation of some future event is the best part of my day, but sometimes I ignore the warning signs because anticipation is bewitching and fun, and allows me to occupy the mostly unscripted hours of my life with thoughts of taking a longer shower using exfoliators and a fresh razor, of picking out clothes and getting dressed, asking my husband to point to my right foot or my left to indicate the shoe of his choice. And these luxuriant preparations would be only a first course to dining out, to walking around a town on a hot summer night, to visiting the cavernously dark and cozy interior of a club where well-dressed people have intimate conversations over drinks while waiting for good music to begin.

My anticipation reached its zenith Friday night as the concert date had finally arrived. And I felt this urgency about it--that somehow it wouldn't happen the way I anticipated it, that childcare for the kids would fall through, or my husband would have to work late, and that any obstacle would mean the life or death of our marriage, or more accurately, the life or death of me--since anticipation had been my sustenance now for a number of weeks.

The feast of my anticipation couldn't begin with the dawn as I had hoped, but it happened. The dressing occurred with slightly less luxuriation than it had happened in my fantasy, but my husband and I both readied ourselves in time for a good dinner before the concert, and some walking around, and some standing in the dark but not quite cozy club. And the music was quite good. Not dancing music--more like the repetitive bending of one knee while I slapped my thigh. And then there was the parade at midnight to our car, where crowds on the sidewalk had thickened to a current of bare shoulders and thighs, people bending over trash cans, and a few people standing on the corner handing out tracts that said, "Who is Jesus?"

And in the morning, driving to pick up my kids, I was thinking about a time in my life, when I might have anticipated such an evening every Friday night, where even that would not have been enough. My anticipation had been slaked but I was still thirsty.

It had been a lie--this story I've told myself over the past weeks that the one thing I need is a night out on the town. And driving through cornfields to reach my children, it seemed the most absurd thing I could ever have allowed myself to believe.

My husband knew the truth. When he has spent the week working "out there," and sometimes staying in very nice hotels, and eating good food, and playing golf with people whom he doesn't care for, because it's part of business, I don't believe him when he says he doesn't really enjoy it. I get agitated sometimes that he comes home on the weekend and wants to stay at home rather than going out again--taking us out (we who have been "stuck" at home). He wants to work on the house, or the yard, or relax with the kids running around here--and all I can think is "more of the same?" How much more of the same can I take?

But after a night out on the town, more than ever, "I hunger and thirst for true righteousness." I will not tolerate another lie: the soft thrill of a trip to the store, the cup of black coffee that pulls me out of bed each morning, any of the myriad objects and interests I deem to consume that likewise consume me--and yet never satisfy. I hunger and thirst for true righteousness: my children and their goodness, loving my husband, a family that helps one another. I hunger and thirst for communion with Christ, for the Eucharist, for the way the Holy Spirit whispers the truth in the bending of tall grass.

And yet to enjoy that for which I thirst, there is always a burden to carry, the burden of self-crucifixion. Sometimes, when I become aware that my eyes are in the habit of opening inwardly rather than outwardly, I have to teach myself all over again how to see. At first it burns to use my eyes, not just for getting around, but for acknowledging the realities of life as I live it, because life as I imagine it can overpower all of my senses.

It is a discipline to accept frustrations as well as gifts and perks; the suffering and the salve, the pain and exultation that blew me away in Shostakovich, and that I appreciate in Iron and Wine as well. It occurs to me now that the music is not some expression of an impassioned and idealized place in time, someplace that I can go, but rather the expression of having lived, truly lived, an entire life.

Unless we keep our hearts thus unfettered, how can we come to the Lord? Nothing apart from God can satisfy the human heart which is truly in search of him.--Saint Anthony of Padua


Kimberlie said...

I have been reading a book by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. In the second chapter he talks about suffering and joy, ours and God's. He quotes from The Imitation of Christ "there is no living a life of love without sorrow."

I think that as mothers, we live a life of love but often at the sacrifice of our own wants and desires. We experience joy but sometimes to the sorrow of the death of self. Sorrow and joy together just as God experiences great joy and sorrow together when he looks upon humanity.

Pentimento said...

The final quote from St. Anthony is the answer to the Brahms question too. Thank you.

Maggie said...

Ugh. THIS IS ME. Well, except for the thirsting for righteousness part. I have yet to figure that out.

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister. I love your writing, btw. Thanks for this. As I sit here, wishing the dishes, laundry, and my children would go away -- you help me come to my senses.

Ashley @ Seeking Steward said...

Your writing is so poignant. It is always just a string of another something else when we haven't allowed ourselves to gravitate to simply Christ.

Very beautiful!

Matthew Lickona said...

Iron & Wine!

Betty, this is of course lovely, but do keep this bit from C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters in mind, maybe:

"He's a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the seashore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are 'pleasures for evermore.' Ugh! I don't think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the Miserific Vision. He's vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least - sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us."

Julia said...

The problem with anticipation is that the preview never matches the reality, and so the gift of the reality is always tinged with disappointment. When I am tempted to indulge in anticipation I remind myself there's only one thing I know for sure: that whatever happens, it will NOT be the way I imagine it!

It is good to go where the music is. It is better to find the music where we are, already. Music takes us places that we can't articulate, but I think that's mainly because we are so groaningly inarticulate. I am, any way.

BettyDuffy said...

Kimberlie--yes, exactly. Love that Catalamessa quote.

P--The challenge always being to listen, to appreciate, and remain detached. Who does that?

Maggie--Don't feel bad. My thirsting is always in hindsight.


Ashley--so true, could go on indefinitely, if we don't realize enough is enough.

Matthew--thanks for the link--looking forward to listening when I have high speed internet again. God is a hedonist then? I'm not sure about that. I wouldn't debate going to another concert. It was fun! But I would debate staking one's happiness on it. That would be twisted.

Julia-- you discredit yourself. HIghly articulate. You nailed it.

Lizzie said...

I thought of you as I was at an arts festival this weekend ( and the last act I saw before returning home from a mud soaked field was 'Iron and Wine'! They were great - thanks for the heads up as I made sure I stayed for the full set and I loved them - perfect end to a great weekend. Any recommendations for a good album to start with?

BettyDuffy said...

I fell in love with I&W on his Shepherd's Dog album. Or download "Resurrection Fern," "Innocent Bones" and "Naked as we Came." That would be a good start.

What a fun concert!