Monday, April 12, 2010

No going back

Well, our good old house on Scott Avenue was finally demolished. It happened on Holy Thursday - April 1st, 2010. The poor place had been empty since we moved out on December 19th, 2009, and had been looking more and more derelict with each passing week. First the scavengers hit it for what they could, and then the state-contracted salvage crews moved in and took everything of value. We'd drive by it once in a while, maybe every couple of weeks, just to have a look and see if there was any progress. I knew the end was near when I saw the windows had been removed (only the newer vinyl ones, though) - that was always a sign that the cranes would be moving in any day.

The last time I drove by, when I saw the windows were out, I stopped and walked around the old place one last time. The siding had been stripped, leaving the charcoal gray asphalt shingles that had lay under the siding. The rooms were open to the elements, window frames gaping holes and the back door missing. Even the lovely deck had been sawn off and taken away. I resisted the temptation to walk up the outside steps and enter by the upper back door for a last walk-through, reasoning that it might be unsafe with the house in the condition it was in. I did peek in one of the ground floor windows into what had once been a bedroom, in which the kids had slept and played, and the ordinary days of ordinary life had unfolded in that good old house. I felt a pang of loss then, a bit of the nostalgia that I'd been expecting much more of much sooner.

Perhaps expectably, along with it came flitting through my head something that hadn't even enough coherence to be called a thought -- an imaginative impulse, if you will. It cried as it passed, "Wait! We could still do something! We could... we could make some arrangements with the state, and get the house back, and fix all this up, and move back in, and live here again! This could be home once more!" The impulse turned my head, but only for a moment, before I shook myself and turned away, returning to the car to drive back to the lovely new home which was a gift from God and our children. But I thought as I drove, and I've been thinking ever since: from what part of me did that impulse come, and what does it say about me?

Needless to say, such an impulse hadn't the slightest connection to any kind of reality, but it's easy to understand why it would occur. After all, the house had been our home for over two decades, and we'd lived a lot of life within those walls. It's only reasonable to expect an emotional tie to the place, and the accompanying urges to preserve it, no matter how irrational. But the extremity of the circumstances, and resulting absurdity of the impulse, got me wondering: are there other things in this life which I cling to long after I should be letting them go?

One of the clearest things Jesus has to say is that this life is transient, full of temporary goods, and we shouldn't let things here distract us from the greater and more permanent goods of heaven. In a way, our lives on this earth, in which we invest so much, are like our family's last months on Scott Avenue: we knew we were moving, we even knew where we'd be going, we knew the old place would be coming down, that not only our days there but the days of its very existence were numbered. There was nothing further for us there, it wasn't even worth fixing the dripping faucets, it was time to move on to a better, more suitable house. Yet if I can feel an urge to try to cling to something like the old house, in the teeth of all reason, what other earthly things might I be holding on to long past the time God would have me move on from them? If my instincts to cling to the the passing good can make themselves heard even under such extreme circumstances, where else might they be governing my thoughts without my even knowing?

My spiritual reading lately has been an excellent book* summarizing and distilling the teachings of great saints like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. One common thread in all their teachings is that the things of this world, even the very good things like familial love, pale in comparison to the goods which God offers us when we devote our entire life to Him. The writings of these spiritual giants makes me long for these great spiritual goods - or at least to long to long for them. Perhaps little incidents like the irrational impulse to try to resuscitate the stripped hulk of an old house to try to make it a home again are reminders to me of just how attached I am to worldly goods, and how far I have to go to attain true detachment.

I don't know - perhaps the days are coming when I'll be asked to give up all earthly goods to gain heavenly ones. Perhaps those days are sooner than I think. Perhaps I'm just being offered an opportunity for a little warm-up.

* The Fulfilment of All Desire, by Ralph Martin

1 comment:

Delores said...

Yes, we must give up the good for the best. Hard to do, especially when we are tied emotionally to them-- like a house lived in for 2 decades. :) But they are just things. The biggie of course is giving up the earthly life for the heavenly one; I suppose even before we die or are faced with death.