I’ve been tucked away in my little condo way too much lately. I’ve been inundated with work and personal study, both of which I thoroughly enjoy, but both of which tend to keep me indoors for long periods of time. And let’s be honest- who really wants to go outside right now? Dear inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest, in case you didn’t know, that was a rhetorical question.
It has been insanely hot in Atlanta. I’ve sworn heretofore that Atlanta has been dubbed “Hotlanta” because it happens to be where a bunch of beautiful people live, but now, after enduring my third consecutive August in Atlanta, I’m pretty sure that was naïve or just plain wrong. Please take a sister’s word for it: Atlanta is called “Hotlanta” because, well, it is hot as heck-fire. I have a smile across my face right now because I’m thinking about my friend who recently moved to Kuwait. Yep, Kuwait. I just glanced at the weather report for Kuwait tomorrow and it looks like it is predicted to be a balmy 118. She would rebuke me for grumbling about a good ole classic 100 degrees but I would quickly retort: “It’s the humidity that makes it unendurable.” She wouldn’t be impressed though, and well, I don’t really blame her. So let’s put it this way: relatively speaking, the heat has been pretty nasty around here. I ran into my neighbor earlier today and she told me she has gained several pounds this month because she refuses to leave her house. We both shook our heads and carried on for a good while in mutual astonishment until finally there was nothing left to do but to prophesy about the glory days to come: autumn in Georgia. By the way, “autumn” sounds way more glamorous than “fall”, right? Autumn in Georgia covers a multitude of summer sins. Some folks get annoyed when people small talk about the weather, but I get a kick out of it. I like that the weather is something that everyone has something to say about, no matter how bashful the person may be or what season it is. The weather is just good neutral common ground, you know? Also, you can get really good and worked up over the weather and you won’t hurt anyone else’s feelings. It’s kinda fun.
But back to my recent case of condo fever. Several months ago I explained to my Mom that I think I am equal parts homebody and wanderlust. She laughed at me, not with me, and explained that I’m more like 99% wanderlust. “Your boots were made for walking, sweetheart.” That’s how she put it. She may be right. A perusing of a world atlas can be sacramental to me. When Colin and I were first dating he told me that he wanted to have an entire wall of his house dedicated to a huge world map. Although I was slightly horrified by the aesthetic ramifications of a big map mural, I had never loved him more.
I love to travel. To see a new place and to experience a new culture. But there is this little thing called adulthood. And responsibility. For some weird reason our landlord keeps demanding that we pay rent every month. Plus, there are events like weddings and family reunions that stack up and demand a big percentage of that small slice of vacation time each of us are allotted.
I’ve had the travel itch lately without the practical availability to travel. I’m like a bird in a cage. I know there is a fabulous destination out there with my name and respective 50-degree weather attached to it, but I just can’t make it happen right now. The very idea that there are people walking around places like Tuscany or Madrid, well, it makes me feel like I’m missing out on something that might have been. I mean, for crying out loud, somewhere over the rainbow, there are people mounted on the Alps eating Swiss fondue.
The most serious symptom of my condo fever has been chronic daydreaming. I can’t remember a time period of my life when I daydreamt this much since my fifth grade teacher taught us long division. Back then, I used to drift off and imagine Willowbrook Mall was my own personal closet. I would roam to and fro throughout this gigantic shopping mall, from Limited Too to Gadzooks, to pick out my new outfit for school. Don’t ask me how Limited Too and Gadzooks were able to coexist in my daydream because I’m not sure. But they were.
Some twenty years later my daydreaming hasn’t matured or progressed all that much. I won’t tarry long on this for sake of my own tender ego but I will say, I have eaten lots of freshly picked strawberries on the rolling green hills of the shire with a handful of delightful little hobbits. I also cried the other day when I heard the theme song from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. You know, the song: “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination”? Who wouldn’t want to drink from a waterfall flowing with milk chocolate? Or pick the fruit from a tree that renders elephantine gummy bears? And what about red and white polka dotted mushrooms the size of giant patio umbrellas, bulging with buttercream icing?
And you’re thinking, Oh Melissa, you need to get out more. But that is exactly what I’m trying to tell you, dear, I can’t leave the house right now. So in attempt to deal more constructively with reality, I’ve been trying to take note of the beauty around me during the particular season I’m in. I don’t think the drive in me to constantly see something new all the time is all that bad. Sure, it could be bad. But for the most part, if it’s harnessed properly, I think it’s okay. Not to mention, it is kind of part of being human. At least for a lot of us, I think. Having said that, I would like to learn how to discover beauty in a season of repetition. Not a season of suffering or hardship, but just a season that is filled with mostly repetitive tasks. A season when I’m feeling a little domesticated and maybe a little bit too familiar with my surroundings. The whole “wake up, eat, work, eat, go to bed” monotony can be disillusioning over time and sometimes someone needs to look at us and say, “Snap out of it! There is beauty to behold, even in your mundane little world!”
All this typing has made me think of the paragraph from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.
“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg.” (See Part IV “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy)
If you haven’t read Chesterton before, you need to immediately. Orthodoxy should be required for baptism. I’m kidding, I think. Chesterton was a man of extraordinary brilliance and imagination and even if you think he has lost his mind at times, his writing will make you think differently about the world we inhabit.
But I’m not done talking through my dilemma. I wonder if imagination itself is one key to enjoying and delighting in the mundane. What if, instead of dreaming about how bright the city lights are in Bangkok, or longing for a cool starry night out on a ranch out in Montana, I took notice of the way the sun dances on my old cracked hardwood floors from the hours of 6-8 pm, as if they were its vintage stage? What if, each time I saw a butterfly, I imagined God standing at an easel painting the delicate and intricate patterns displayed on its wings? Or, what if, instead of being annoyed by the boisterous giggling of two people in my local coffee shop, I thanked God for the gift of laughter and comic relief or imagined the kinds of things that may bring a smile to His face. I wonder what my life would be like if I used my overactive imagination, not to daydream about far away lands or fantasy peoples, but to make sense of and delight in my own little world and the people I encounter on a daily basis.
I’ll never forget when I first read an excerpt from one of Kyle Lake’s final sermons. For those of you who are not familiar, Kyle Lake was the pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, TX. He died, far too young, in October of 2005. I did not know Lake personally but I did attend his church on several occasions when I was a Baylor student and had the opportunity to hear him preach. Somewhere along the way I heard that they read the following excerpt from one of his final sermons at his funeral:
“Live. And Live Well. BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now. On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the windows and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun. If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not just be alarmed, be ALIVE. Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time. If you bike, pedal HARD… and if you crash then crash well. Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done—a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed. If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old’s nose, don’t be disgusted if the Kleenex didn’t catch it all… because soon he’ll be wiping his own. If you’ve recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And grieve well. At the table with friends and family, LAUGH. If you’re eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee beans freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste every ounce of Life. Because-it-is-most-definitely-a-Gift.”
I like that.
I want to be present. In every season. Even the ordinary ones.
“Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” James 1.17