It’s the morning of Christmas Eve and I’m painting the bathroom.
I just started. I’m trying to figure out how to maneuver in there
with the paint and the ladder and the trays. How best to reach the ceiling.
Foggy outside, but the sun coming through. This is the morning
we decided to put our cat down, too, and I’ve been thinking about that
as I soak the roller and begin to smooth the paint on the wall.
She was a little squirrel of a cat, dust-bunny gray, furtive and unmannered,
and I’m checking in with myself to see if maybe we’ve behaved callously
in taking her to the vet this morning, Christmas Eve of all days,
when the Child was born in a manger among the cows and the sheep,
with their sweet, warm breath. But it feels right to me, though sad.
This power we all have, of life and death. These choices we all make.
When I look back on the year I realize that more and more the events
of my life are interior. Nothing much seems to happen. But it does.
In secret. In silence. All that is asked of each of us is to wrestle in faith
with God and with whatever opposes us in the world, Guardini says.
In the Christmas letter I got the other day from my old debate partner
in high school, someone I always looked up to and used to think of
as very smart, as a genius, he misspells the word empirical, talking about
his cats and dogs and grandkids—he spells it with an “I”—impirical—
and that really surprises me and bothers me, though of course
empirical is a good word for talking about the realism we need to have
as we grow older, the facing of facts, the giving up of illusions,
and in any event forgiveness is the most important thing of all,
compassion, first towards ourselves, and then towards others—
towards all living things, all that moves and breathes and has its being.
And I rub and I roll, and the roller squeaks, and the walls smooth out,
a greenish-blue this time, clean and bright for another few years.
How solemn painting is, how formal: the careful preparations,
the spreading of cloths, the small, deliberate movements of our hands.
There’s a kind of quiet at the center. A kind of tenderness.
Things have been stripped away. Things are about to change.
published in The Apple Valley Review, Fall 2016