Tag Archives: George MacDonald

Travis and Sam are friends. Travis has been sick for weeks, and spends all day lying in bed. Sam is out of town.

In Travis’ mind, he is staying inside because he’s sick; but he forgets that he only got sick after staying inside. After one week inside, he started to notice that he was breathing shallowly and had a headache. The headache made him close all the blinds, and he began lying in the dark all day. After two weeks, he noticed that his hair was starting to fall out. After three weeks, he was as pale as gray clay. After four weeks, his skin started to develop a rubbery, fibrous consistency, like circus peanuts or half-dried caulking.

Travis is beginning week four. He’s scared, but in a distant, slow-burn kind of way: not enough to do anything about it.

Sam comes back to town and hears about Travis. He is tired from travelling, and he puts off visiting for a few days, but eventually he goes to see him. He can’t see him very well because the blinds are closed, but he can see that his friend is quite sick. He inwardly chastises himself for not coming sooner.

They talk for a while, but Sam finds that Travis only wants to talk about his sickness. So Sam suggests that maybe Travis should leave the house and get some sun.

travis-and-sam

Sam Listen, do you want to go sit outside? It’s a beautiful day. You look awful. It seems like maybe you need sun.
Travis I look “awful”? I wish you wouldn’t be so judgmental. See, that’s why I stopped going out so much: everybody’s got some idea of how I’m supposed to be. Nobody just lets me be myself. I wish people could just appreciate me the way I am.
Sam Sorry, I just mean you look sick! Sick is not how you’re supposed to be. Don’t you think you need sun?
Travis But what do you mean, “supposed to”? Who made up that rule? How is that fair? What, healthiness is going to be withheld from me unless I go get some sun? Isn’t it my basic human right to be healthy? Are you telling me I have to lie here losing hair just because I won’t go outside? Look, I don’t believe in people imposing conditions on my rights.
Sam Well, I don’t know if it’s your basic right to be healthy, but sun makes you healthy, and you have a right to go out in the sun. And you need sun.
Travis What do you mean, “need”? I’m alive, aren’t I? If I needed the sun, I’d be dead without the sun. I’m not dead, so I must not need the sun. I understand that some people have weak constitutions — no offense, but I know you’ve always been like that, and that’s totally fine with me, I don’t judge — but I’m not like that. I’m not dead, am I?
Sam You’re not dead, but you look like you’re dying. You need sun.
Travis I guess I would like some sun, honestly — not because I’m SUPPOSED to, but because I’d LIKE to. But look, I can take care of myself. Here, come see this lamp I made, all by myself. I’ve been working on it for two weeks. I’ve been kind of obsessed with it, to be honest. I spent a lot of time researching it on the internet. I made the body from these dirty dishes. I made the bulb from this beer bottle. I made the filament from the hair I’ve lost. Look, when I plug it in, it makes a spark.
Sam Dude, that’s gross, and it smells like burning hair. You just need sun.
Travis Look, I’m not just going to throw all that work away! Are you telling me all my efforts were for nothing? That it was all just a waste of time? That would figure, wouldn’t it? Honestly, sometimes it seems like God is against me: I try so hard, I work day in and day out to make this lamp — and it hurts my eyes to be working in the dark like this, believe me; it’s a strain — but it’s still not enough! What would be enough for him? What does he want?
Sam He wants you to be healthy. Just get up and come outside with me! You need sun.
Travis Just get up, huh? What is that, magic? He wants me to perform some arbitrary action, like walking across the room and out the door, just because he says so, and suddenly I’ll healthy? I suppose I have to sit in some special chair, too, and face in some special direction, and say some special words? Why should I have to perform some archaic ritual just to be healthy? I don’t believe in that stuff.
Sam Don’t be silly, it doesn’t matter what chair you sit in. You just need sun.
Travis Well, that’s the thing. I really would like some sun, but I can’t have it. Do you get it? Do you get the joke that God is playing on me? I want to be healthy, right? –
Sam Do you?
Travis – of course I do. But in order to be healthy I need to go out in the sun; but in order to go out in the sun I need energy; and in order to have energy, I need to be healthy! Do you get the joke? There’s just no way out for me. It’s all a big trap.
Sam Then I’ll carry you out. You need sun.
Travis CARRY me? Um, I’m sorry, I think you misunderstood. I’m not some kind of invalid. I’m just a little sick. I’m still my own man, and I don’t need carrying. And look, I don’t want to cause you trouble.
Sam You’re causing me trouble right now. Do you know how you sound? You need sun.
Travis Well THAT’S kind of condescending. It’s SO simple, right? Just get up and get some sun, and I can be healthy, like you? Gosh, I’m sorry to be such a BURDEN on you. I didn’t realize that MY sickness made YOU unhappy. If you had ever been a month without the sun, you’d talk differently, you know. You don’t know what it’s like to be me. It’s always been easier for you, anyway, with your skin. I burn easily.
Sam You’re probably right, I have it easy! But look, you need sun.
Travis [Pauses] Listen, Sam, I didn’t want to tell you this…but I’m a little scared. It’s been so long. I’ve changed, lying here. I don’t even think I’d like the sun anymore. I peeked out through the blinds once, and the sunlight filled me with a kind of terror…You don’t know what it’s like in my head. Every time I imagine being warm, I get this horrible burning sensation, and I feel SO tired just thinking about it. Or what if I got out there and found out that it was for nothing? What if I tried it and it didn’t work? Then I wouldn’t have any hope at all. And besides –
Sam Listen, can you shut up? Do you trust me or not?
Travis Yes, but –
Sam Do I have your permission to help you?
Travis Sure, but I don’t see how –
Sam Good. C’mere.

Sam picks up Travis from the bed. He is surprised how light Travis is. His body is clammy and he smells bad. also, he keeps writhing around and groaning so that Sam almost drops him. On their way out the door, Sam accidentally bumps Travis’ head on the doorframe, which makes Travis swear and makes Sam feel a little bad, but not too bad.

It’s a beautiful spring day and there’s an old canvas-and-metal lawn chair in the corner of the lawn. Sam walks over with Travis in his arms, stumbling a little bit: Travis is lighter than usual, but he’s still a full-grown man. He drops Travis into the chair. Travis grumbles and snarls for a while, then falls silent and stares straight ahead. Sam gets a second lawn chair, puts it next to Travis, and sits in it. He is silent too. Eventually Sam falls asleep.

A couple of hours later, Travis says, “Hey, Sam?”

Sam wakes up. “Huh? Yeah, what?”

Travis blushes. The red looks good in his cheeks. He says, “I’m hungry. Do you think you could make me a sandwich?”

Guess what you guys! We interrupt our regular schedule of not-posting-on-Thursdays to bring you this post over on Catholic Exchange. It’s really nice to be writing publicly as Joseph Prever again; I mean, it’s really nice for there to be only one of me.

It’s also nice to write stuff that isn’t about gayness in particular. Anyway, here’s an excerpt.

Is it safe to expose children to such dark images? I think so, or as safe as any real poetry can be; poetry is no tame lion. At that age, I had no categories in my mind for real darkness, and so the darkness couldn’t get in to do me damage. But the image stayed; which meant that when the reality showed up years later, I was not defenseless.

Maybe you could go over there and leave comments, so they’ll think I’m awesome and post my stuff all the time. Peace.

Is there anything more beautiful than the human face? Beautiful because it manifests the mystery of incarnation: meat made more than meat, flesh quickened by spirit, the breath of God made visible; the way the wind is made visible when it moves the trees.

Faces show love, show what it looks like, a visible image of the invisible. Think of Jesus’ face in Mark 10:21: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” The loving is in the looking.

It is said1 that, just as the Son is the Word of the Father, so the Holy Spirit is the Look of love that the Father exchanges with the Son.

Or look again at the face of Charles de Foucauld: impossible to say where that Look resides: the mouth? the eyes? somewhere between? Wherever it is, the man’s face is lit from the inside.

But faces show other things besides love. Someone has said that, by the time he is forty, a man has the face he deserves;2 which is to say, our faces sometimes reveal things we would rather keep hidden. I have often noted that the wounded, those who have been particularly marked by suffering, wear a certain look, as definite and unmistakable as a taste on the tongue.

I’ve seen it in friends, I’ve seen it in family, I see it sometimes in a stranger walking down the street — a quick flash of something permeable, something naked, something crying for healing. I’ve even seen it in those who have made it their business to hide it. Nobody wants that kind of pain to be visible, but pain will out.3

I don’t mean that people’s souls are open books to me, far from it, but still: I know what I know.4 When you’ve known a particular pain from the inside, you can recognize it in others, the way Jadis descries the mark of a magician (however faint) in the face of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew.

I wonder if this is part of the secret to “gaydar.” Not every man with SSA wears the look of the wounded — and not everyone who wears the look has SSA — but it’s there often enough.

And even those who don’t know what it means sometimes react to it. Think of the face of the awkward boy in seventh grade, the one nobody liked, the one whose eyes always pleaded with you to laugh at his horrible, false jokes — and think of how you couldn’t bear that look, had to avert your eyes. It’s a look that can generate hatred as easily as compassion.

Looks of love, looks of pain. I wonder if the truly holy have the power to see the true looks behind all of our contrived ones, the way Curdie had the power to feel the true shape of a man’s hand in The Princess and Curdie.

And all of our looks, true and false, loving and pleading — I wonder how they look to God.

1 But by whom? Wish I could remember. Sounds like Von Balthasar, maybe.
2 I don’t know if that’s quite fair — and can’t remember who said this one either — but there’s something in it nevertheless.
3 People pushing harder / Up against themselves / Make their baggage sharper / Than their faces tell. Name the song — no googling!
3 And I’ll sing what I’ve said! (Name the song again.)

Caleb and I both have terrible senses of direction. We were driving together once, trying to find our friend J’s house. I knew where it was, or thought I knew, but we ended up on the opposite side of town, a good twenty minutes from where we were supposed to be. The worst part was that we had just left a house where J’s brother was working, which I knew, but I hadn’t asked directions, because — well, because I already knew!

When Caleb realized where we were, he exploded: “This is just like you!

That may have hurt a little bit, but more than that, it surprised me. It’s hard to think of yourself as being just like anything, because we see ourselves from the inside, and from the inside I don’t look like a coherent whole at all.1 I see the decisions I make from day to day, but seeing patterns is harder, or maybe impossible.

Walker Percy2 gets it:

One of the peculiar ironies of being a human self in the Cosmos: A stranger approaching you in the street will in a second’s glance see you whole, size you up, place you in a way in which you cannot and never will, even though you have spent a lifetime with yourself, live in the Century of the Self, and therefore ought to know yourself best of all.3

Well, this is one thing that friends are for. Friends see into the heart of you, see what you are, in a way that you never can. They know you; they name you.4

But there’s all the difference in the world between a name and a label. A name is the secret of who you are, the one thing that sums you up: it is your Word, the way the Son is the Word of the Father. A name is rich and full. A label flattens, simplifies, steamrolls.

Elsewhere, Percy says of a certain woman — I don’t have my copy of The Thanatos Syndrome handy, so I’m paraphrasing — “She had given up on the mystery of herself, she had taken another woman’s advice: be bold, be assertive.”

Although this probably applies to everybody, I think it especially applies to men with SSA. Growing up with SSA means, for many people, never knowing exactly what you are. Not fitting in — not only in the sense of being bullied or rejected, but not being able to identify with any group, not feeling at home anywhere. Feeling yourself to be not a man, maybe, but certainly not a woman, and androgynous least of all.

I wonder — I am about to speak out of ignorance but also sincerity, and I ask your forgiveness in advance if I offend — I wonder if this is what makes some men with SSA take on a gay identity, and take it on so deeply that they are swallowed whole, so that their own old friends stop recognizing them.

Taking on a pre-defined identity — something already warm, already ready to slip into — would be a relief for anybody. No longer having to work out, in fear and trembling, what I am, but having it all pre-fabricated, complete with taste and style and a welcoming community.

But it doesn’t solve the question of Selfhood. It only postpones.

This is one reason that, despite my sensitivity and musicality and slightness of build and tenderness of heart,5 I don’t know if I could ever be comfortable describing myself as gay. It’s not a bad word, but it is a label, not a name.

Oh, but as usual, George MacDonald says the whole thing better than I ever could.

1 Makes me think of a horoscope from The Onion: “Don’t worry: You’re more than just a collection of annoying, loosely bundled neuroses. There are some tightly wound and dangerous psychoses in there, too.”
2 I love Walker Percy, I lurve him. I would marry Walker Percy. If he weren’t married, male, old, and dead.
3 From the introduction to Lost in the Cosmos.
4 I am thinking of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door, where “naming” someone is the opposite of “X-ing” them. To name someone is to fill the vacuum of their selfhood with love and intimate knowledge.To X is the opposite of that.
5 Although please bear in mind that I am also extremely badass.

Well, dear readers, I have been in a funk. I like the word “funk” because it doesn’t allow me to take it too seriously. DEPRESSION is something medical and serious, it’s a CONDITION. A funk, on the other hand, passes and then you go about your business. Just something that happens, like a summer cold.

Here’s a snippet from George MacDonald1 that sums things up:

They had a feeling, or a feeling had them, till another feeling came and took its place. When a feeling was there, they felt as if it would never go; when it was gone they felt as if it had never been; when it returned, they felt as if it had never gone.2

That’s the way, isn’t it? Moods come and go, and it’s foolish to take any one of them for the way life is. This is true of happy moods as well as sad ones.

Not that all joy is temporary; but all states of mind are temporary. The trick is having a solid foundation, something that lets you hold on to peace even in the middle of an emotional storm; so that, no matter how bad it gets, the bottom never drops out. That’s why the Psalmist is always calling God a rock: something solid, something that isn’t dislodged even when the sea is angry.

I was about to quote St. Paul about “the peace which surpasses all understanding”, but when I looked it up I found that the passage is even more relevant than I remembered:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.3

Rejoice! All the time! St. Paul isn’t saying “be in a happy mood all the time.” If he were, he would be asking the impossible. Telling a depressed person, “Cut it out and be happy!” is about as helpful as telling a poor person, “Be warm! Get fed!”4

But he isn’t doing that. There’s a kind of rejoicing which can be done in the middle of depression, and a kind of peace that lasts through storms.

It has something to do with “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving” — maybe especially the last part. Giving thanks for all of it: the good and the bad, the puppies and the fleas, the light and the shadow. If you can’t think of anything else, give thanks that you have toes and that the sky is blue. Once you get rolling, it gets easier.

Well. Easy enough to say. I’m working on it. Time for my evening prayers.

1 Do you know about George MacDonald?? My parents read me The Golden Key when I was very young, and it left a bigger impression on my imagination than any other 30 pages I can think of. It’s in the public domain, and the full text is here if you want it.
2 From George MacDonald: An Anthology, edited by my other hero, C. S. Lewis. It’s on Google Books here.
3 Philippians 4:4-7.
4 I’m thinking of James 2:16.