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Friday, February 03, 2006

Falling Towards Grace

I discovered this poem over twenty years ago. My life was in shambles at the time (come to think of it there have been quite a few “shambled” years…but I digress). This poem hit me square in the gut.

In a U-Haul North of Damascus
by David Bottoms


Lord, what are the sins
I have tried to leave behind me? The bad checks,
the workless days, the scotch bottles thrown across the fence
and into the woods, the cruelty of silence,
the cruelty of lies, the jealousy,
the indifference?

What are these on the scale of sin
or failure
that they should follow me through the streets of Columbus,
the moon-streaked fields between Benevolence
and Cuthbert where dwarfed cotton sparkles like pearls
on the shoulders of the road. What are these
that they should find me half-lost,
sick and sleepless
behind the wheel of this U-Haul truck parked in a field
on Georgia 45
a few miles north of Damascus,
some makeshift rest stop for eighteen wheelers
where the long white arms of oak slap across trailers
and headlights glare all night through a wall of pines?


What was I thinking Lord?
That for once I'd be in the driver's seat, a firm grip
on direction?

So the jon boat muscled up the ramp,
the Johnson outboard, the bent frame of the wrecked Harley
chained for so long to the back fence,
the scarred desk, the bookcases and books,
the mattress and box springs,
a broken turntable, a Pioneer amp, a pair
of three-way speakers, everything mine
I intended to keep. Everything else abandon.

But on the road from one state
to another, what is left behind nags back through the distance,
a last word rising to a scream, a salad bowl
shattering against a kitchen cabinet, china barbs
spiking my heel, blood trailed across the cream linoleum
like the bedsheet that morning long ago
just before I watched the future miscarried.

Jesus, could the irony be
that suffering forms a stronger bond than love?


Now the sun
streaks the windshield with yellow and orange, heavy beads
of light drawing highways in the dew-cover.
I roll down the window and breathe the pine-air,
the after-scent of rain, and the far-off smell
of asphalt and diesel fumes.

But mostly pine and rain
as though the world really could be clean again.

Somewhere behind me,
miles behind me on a two-lane that streaks across
west Georgia, light is falling
through the windows of my half-empty house.
Lord, why am I thinking about this? And why should I care
so long after everything has fallen
to pain that the woman sleeping there should be sleeping alone?
Could I be just another sinner who needs to be blinded
before he can see? Lord, is it possible to fall
toward grace? Could I be moved
to believe in new beginnings? Could I be moved?

* * *

Falling towards grace. Those indelible words imbedded themselves in my brain. I came to understand what I had been feeling, what I continue to feel ever more strongly with every passing year, every new disaster.

I was raised in the Catholic Church. From kindergarten on, through my First Communion and then my Confirmation, I believed that a state of grace is something we ascend towards. I thought grace was to be found within the heavens, not in the ashes and dust beneath my feet. Perhaps that’s true for saints; perhaps, for most…but not for me.

I wrote earlier that I’m either a new and utterly foolish soul, or an old soul riding the “short bus” through eternity. It seems that I can only learn by failing. I’ve edged closer to becoming a loving person by failing at love. I’ve acquired a bit of patience after crashing willy-nilly into one or two walls too many. I’ve learned a few things about humility by failing myself, and others, often. I wish it weren’t this way. I wish grace were easier to achieve than solely through pain. But, so be it. If I must first hurt in order to learn, then I must hurt…and hurt I do…as I find myself slowly falling towards grace.

* * *


Blogger Ed said...

I really enjoy reading your thoughts, Jon.

I think learning through experience is the more difficult but far richer education ... life would be a fairly rote exercise if we got it all right the first or second time, don't you think? And often when we fail, we learn something new and valuable to carry forward.

So what is "failure," really?

Tue Feb 07, 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

If experience equates to riches, then I am Croesus.

Tue Feb 07, 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

I too was brought up Catholic and grew up believing grace was something to strive for, to achieve, often at the cost of great pain (original sin kicking it off with a bang). But you know what I think now that I'm old and many years removed from the church? Grace finds me. If I let it.

oh my.. v-word.. fulla (grace)

Thu Apr 16, 03:29:00 PM  

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