When I lived in DC I met a man from Colombia, a numerary in Opus Dei. He was just passing through, which seemed to be what he did in most places. He said he loved the single life, because he could be like Gandalf — at home everywhere and nowhere, always on some mysterious mission, led only by the spirit.
I thought of him last night, when I got too idle and stayed up too late, and as a result lay in bed Thinking About My Life.
And, surprise: my life started to look like a trap, a dead end. Here I am, no wife or children tying me down, nothing really keeping me but the job. I could be anywhere, do anything. And what do I do? I stare at glowing rectangles for a living.
Shouldn’t I be in South America somewhere, courting Lady Poverty? If I don’t get to get married, shouldn’t I become the vagabond/saint/crimefighter/sage I always wanted to be?
Maybe. This kind of thing is equal parts Catholicism and Hollywood, half St. Francis and half Zorba the Greek. You know the trope I mean, right? Rick Moranis/Martin Short/Zach Braff1 stumbles through life half-awake, too mediocre even to know how mediocre he is, until Michael Richards/Dennis Quaid/Natalie Portman2 bursts his quietly-desperate suburban life wide open, breaks all the rules, and Shows Him How To Live!3 Breaking Free4 is the one of the greatest 21st-century virtues.
But then there is St. Francis, who as far as I’m concerned got the whole trend started, so disgusted with his worldly living-and-partly-living and so in love with Christ that he drops it all at once, strips naked right there in the piazza and never looks back. There’s Jesus’ words in the Gospel: I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.
Then add these two to the voices in my head. St. Teresa of Avila: God walks among the pots and pans. Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima: Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.
The hard truth is that I don’t have to go to South America to be a saint. I can do that here, among the pots and pans and glowing rectangles of my life, by striving to remain fully awake, fully alive, living each moment in the presence of God. I can strive to love everyone I meet, not with my own love but the love of Christ — a love that isn’t always romantic or thrilling, that sometimes feels like drudgery, but only because its glory is hidden, like the glory of Christ was hidden on earth. Love in action means love where and when you are, not in the dream of some beautiful Elsewhere.
It doesn’t mean the vagabond’s life is out, it just means I can’t force the issue. Sometimes fear keeps you from going where you’re meant to go. And sometimes it keep you from staying where you’re meant to be.