Can you guess the reason that I’ve got a keyboard gathering dust in my parents’ attic, a drum set doing the same in their spare room, a fiddle languishing in my closet, and a duduk slowly drying in my dresser?
I’ll give you a hint — it’s the same reason I can read the Cyrillic alphabet but can’t speak a word of Russian, can pronounce German passably but couldn’t conjugate sein to save my life, and have no fewer than three half-begun short stories, not to mention the half-conceptualized novels, sitting in my desk drawer.
Answer: it’s so thrilling to start something! But continuing, Not so much.
It’s like setting out on a hike. At the end there’s the clearing and the vista, everything spread out in front of you. At the beginning you have the sense of adventure, freshness, anticipation. At both beginning and end you have access, somehow, to the true nature of the thing: you see into the joy at the heart of it.
But in the middle: slogging past one damn tree after another. Forget adventure, a soft bed will do. What was this for, again?
So, yes, adventure is difficult — which is to say, life is difficult — but not only in the sense of involving strenuous effort. Any strenuous thing is easy if you have enough love in your heart; and love is easy, too, when you have vision, when you are able to see plainly the beauty of the beloved.
But there is a moment in every love when you suddenly look around and say: What was this for? Why bother?
This happened to me during Kung Fu the other night, right when the stretching stopped and the kicking was about to start. What was I doing? Why should I care about perfect form, or strength, or grace? Why did I think it was worth it to stretch and stretch and stretch my body just so I could — what? Kick myself in the forehead?
What kind of an idiot aspires to be able to kick himself in the forehead?
Or: what kind of an idiot follows a God who’s invisible and unhearable? Or: what kind of an idiot stays with a husband she can’t stand? Or: what kind of an idiot struggles to renounce, and keep renouncing, something most of the world wouldn’t even blink at?
Like any temptation worth its salt, this one disguises itself as plainest reality. You will seem to yourself to have woken up, to have seen past the sentiment and the romance to the plain reality of the thing: my wife, my vocation, my God — none of these are worth loving. Tricked again, and life is boring after all — and most boring here, right at the heart of what I thought was It, the very Thing Itself, my marriage, my vocation, my faith.
Lies! We, not truth, are changeable. We can only see the light of truth the way we see the sun through the trees on a windy day. Like Jill and Eustace, we see the truth plainly enough while we are speaking with Aslan — but when we descend into the world, the vision becomes a fool’s dream.
Because life is the opposite of a mirage: ordinary daily things are always more real, more alive, than they look up close. Seen from far off, life blazes; approached, it cools and fades.
But not always. There are the 99 times when we go before the Blessed Sacrament and seem to ourselves to be, O foolishness, kneeling down before a piece of bread. But the 100th time, we know that we are prostrating ourselves before the beating heart of a God, the heart of life, the heart of song.
And this 100th time is enough to carry us through the next 99, if we remember. The remembering is called faith.
For now we see in a mirror dimly; but then, face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.