Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Anagnorisis

Intuitively, everyone knows what the anagnorisis is. In the Greek tragedy tradition, it’s when Oedipus realizes he’s killed his father and slept with his mother. In Harry Potter, it’s when Harry finally grasps what Dumbledore had planned for him all along. It’s great in literature. But it sucks in real life: recognizing I’m in the wrong in a heated argument, for instance, crushes me every time (which is cough often cough).

So I recognized—as I stood in the middle of the Brussels slums, having dragged both my suitcase and travel-worn ass around a quarter-mile radius for the last hour, having nowhere to sleep that night but the sidewalk—my own anagnorisis. I had already been stalked by a man who may have been offering taxi services, but hell if I was going to trust an unmarked car with a man leaning out the window shouting at me in Dutch. He was persistent, circling the block a couple times to find me again, but it was easy enough to walk against the flow of traffic that confined him.

I circled the train station. I searched for road signs (why, Europe, why do you always have tiny, invisible street signs?). I asked for directions. I walked past the place where my hostel ought to have been according to my directions four times, but was met only with steel grates and filthy doors.

Interestingly, this little pocket surrounding the Clemenceau metro station is the Arabic section of Brussels. When I realized it—by the many falafel and hala signs and a few turbans—I felt slightly safer, more comfortable. The first man I worked up the courage to ask for help told me he only spoke Arabic and French. But his son figured out my accent when I asked for “Rue Jorez,” and pointed helpfully at the forebodingly unlit street across from us.

For another half hour, I played a bizarre form of what I’d like to call Arabic pinball (or ping-pong, I suppose), bouncing around and around, gradually honing in on my hidden hostel. Closer, but still clueless as to the exactly location of No. 12 Grimmauld Place, a man saw that I was lost and offered to help. Untrusting—it was against that night’s policy to accept unsolicited help—but desperate, I held my distance from him and said the name of the hostel. With a smile, he pointed across the street and wished me a pleasant evening.

“God helps those who help themselves.”

It’s so tempting to believe.

Which is more difficult: stillness or action? Silence or arguments? I prefer action; I prefer arguing; I prefer to get my hands dirty and fix the problem. So of course I like to believe that God rewards those who get things done. Doing things my modus operandi.

But I had no control over what happened that night, other than my ill-conceived decision to put myself in the situation in the first place.

God helps those who help themselves get into stupid situations. That’s the whole point. Take that, Benji.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spain: Forced Relaxation

Less than 48 hours after I had been back in southern Spain, I revisited my old loves of the country. And—typically of Spanish life—all of these things eased me into lazy relaxation: seventy-degree sunshine, a Rosa-homecooked seafood meal, tinto de verano, tapas dinner style, a Spanish beach, cheap and convenient bus rides, a baguette.

Yesterday, however, even armed with the correct keys I wasn’t able to get into the apartment with the groceries. When I was forced—forced!—to stroll in the sun and laze around on a park bench, I thought Spain was taking my spring break a little too seriously. I’ve always been inept with keys, but after fifteen minutes of hopeless fumbling, I had to admit I hadn’t suddenly gained new skills in the art of door opening.

And I realized: Spain may actually receive attention from the sun, as opposed to Grand Rapids, and people here may smile a whole lot less and dress a whole lot nicer, but a place is a place is a place and a person is a person is a person. Even here I still can’t get in the damn door if God doesn’t want me to. Even here, I have a cold. Even here, I battle my addiction to chocolate (and by “battle” I mean “revel in”).

This is my Father’s world and I do rest in that thought.

Maybe that’s why I still want to travel so much: because I can keep having this realization again and again and again.

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spoils of War

We slaughtered it.

The artichoke, I mean.

One minute it is was lazing in a pile of similarly shaped vegetables, and the next it was tagged and bagged up in plastic and over the counter. We hauled it to the homestead in a creaking blue Oldsmobile and tossed it into the prison, a place of dry cold and expired yogurt. When its time came, we wrenched the head from the sticky corner of the vegetable drawer and cut through its spine with the dullest knife in the drawer. The water boiled, as did the artichoke’s flesh.

When we knew it the end had come, when every centimeter of its flesh had bubbled into mere rubber, at last we drew it from its roiling bath. Hannah suggested throwing it out; Hilary elected for a more damning path. With bare hands, we tore the flesh and dipped it in butter and parmesan.  With eager teeth, we scraped nourishment from its dead carcass. We tasted the limbs with interest, but the heart was pure ecstasy.

Sounding my barbaric GULP!
The last ventricle was consumed, and before us lay a plate of bones, an excavated carcass. Its green and purple skin, piled carelessly atop the gnawed limbs, lay lifeless. We washed our hands and went to bed early.

When the weeks before midterm are upon us, it’s wise to remember the fun times. This little number was written last semester, actually, and Hilary was really cute when she assured us that it wasn’t barbaric to scrape off the artichoke’s flesh with our teeth.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Just Do What, Exactly?

Sometimes, when I’m in the car and I’m cold, I turn up the radio instead of the temperature. The blast of sound momentarily shocks my senses into momentary paralysis, and it takes a few seconds before I remember to turn down the radio and up the temperature. It is all very confusing.

What’s even more astonishing, is that I do this in many different scenarios. When I’m thirsty, I often eat, or I try to blow my nose. Or, more noticeably, when I’m bored, I think I’m sleepy. When I actually have free time, I sometimes do work instead of enjoy the time off.  And when I’m done cleaning all the dirty dishes, or wiping down the bathroom, I have the nerve to be surprised and feel betrayed. Now I don’t have time to read! What did you make me do that for?

It’s gotten to the point that free time baffles me a little. When presented with even a little free time, I have to question myself. Do I really want to read this book? Or do I really want to watch a movie? Or do I actually want to go for a run? Too much freedom is problematic.

I might actually have a problem.
It reminds me of the roundabout set of verses in Romans. Paul writes

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do… I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."

My theory? It’s part of the human condition, this confusion of the senses. What I want to be doing right now is eating brownies with raisins in them and reading a novel. But what I really "want" to be doing is translating three pages of A Midsummer Night's Dream into twelve pages of prose. Guess which desire won out. (I’ll give you a hint: om nom nom)