Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pain and Laughter

What a pity it is to be born a romantic. Try as you might, you can never escape the borders of fairyland. That is to say, you can never leave this world nor can you plunge across into Rivendell. You hang in the frontier country, always seeing your patria from the neighborhood over, but never crossing the street, and, in New Orleans, it is so easy to be a romantic, so easy to indulge in the in-betweeness of the wayfarer. On Sunday, when I found out that I would be evacuating once more, I made a point of wandering the streets of our great city, aimlessly making my way to Audubon Park, for that is the secret way of life for the natives of our town: to be passionately devoted to being nonchalant. When it comes to letting the good times roll, we roll up our selves and work at it (it is perhaps the only thing we really work at). We order life around parades, closing our schools and allocating their buses to the project. We set our schedules according to the festivals. Overtime is not something we do at our jobs and is only heard when discussing the (football) Saints. The (Church's) Saints have, historically speaking, come to our town to sing and party, not just pray and repent. And so, when I set out from my door going about the important business of getting lost, the only desire I had in my heart was that I should end up at a park and climb a tree.

Thus, I cannot say how I ended up in Audubon park, nor why I continued to wander there for many hours more, but I can say that it was utterly intentional when I finally mounted a half-naked magnolia missing limbs from a previous storm. With her remaining limbs, the tree wrapped me up and so that I might fall, not to the ground, but further in love with my home city. And, much as it is when falling in love with a woman, I found that she looked both more simple and more beautiful than she typically does. The air was dry and cool. There was a slight breeze. The Spanish moss tickled me delicately, draped from the trees' limbs. People talk about seductive women on Bourbon St., but I have never made it that far. I am always taken in by Dame Oak and Lady Willow long before I can make it to the French Quarter.

From within the arms of Miss Magnolia, I looked around at the elegant houses and even more elegant streets that, like my magnolia, still bore marks from Katrina. I reflected that, on the anniversary, we would once again be rebuilding. As I climbed down and walked home, I saw the water lines on the houses left from the last storm. Memories of that flood triggered a strange feeling to flood my consciousness. It was that pale, sickly feeling of helplessness that I first felt seven years ago on that same day. "Will I see this all again? How much will have changed when I walk this street next time?"
As I stated before, New Orleanians never plan their route. As such, we never know just when we'll be back on even the closest streets to our houses. Thinking that our city might change due to forces beyond our control was perhaps the most drab and sickening thought that lingered after Katrina. And oh, Change! How we hate that word! We like things done the same way again and again. Change imposes planning, and we perfer to expend that energy enjoying ourselves. We don't like the planning process. We perfer simple action. The party is in the performance. The devil is in the details. That is why we hate change.

This is one aspect of my citizenship that is always in conflict with my creed, where my affection for NOLA finds tension with my loyalty to Kingdom. For Christians are always concerned, even to the verge of paranoia, with the concept of conversion, with the concept of change. So I asked my God whether or not I would have to change again. And He laughed at my silliness. Change again? As if the change Katrina wrought could be repeated!? He made me remember my CS Lewis; "Things never happen the same way twice" said Aslan. Katrina was purification, and not all tears are evil. Isaac is laughter, and not all laughter is flippant. Sometimes laughter strikes with a pain more intense than purgatory, for laughter conceals in its heart the very essence of humility. Tears can be selfish, but laughter is never permitted to be. Because it depends on humility for life, arrogant laughter does not simply offend good manners: it violate the principle of non-contradiction.

Romantics know well the need for laughter, their need for Isaac. As I said before, we live on the border land. Its not that we are citizens without a country, but a people torn between two countries, delicately balancing the pleasures and pains of each. For the pain of being outside of heaven is more manifold than the pleasures of this world. Each of us bears this pain in a different way. Some call it Holocaust. Some call it War. Some call it Disease. Some call it 'the Storm,' but each of these pains produce in us a secret link between the world and the fairyland, between earth and heaven, that makes us a mediator like our Beloved Mediator. "Things never happen the same way twice." Every pain is as unique as the one who bears it, nay, it is more unique. Because it reveals not just the person at their most intimate, but the One more infinite in Good and Variety than all others, our humble laughter does not obscure, but rather enhances this manifold Goodness. Think how agonizingly repetitive merely mirthful moments are. Weddings, birthdays, graduations are redundant with an almost anarchistic similarity. God has to flood these events with His Goodness or we sinners would all grow bored with them. The real miracle, though, is that pain can produce laughter, and that laughter comes in the greatest variety, revealing the full spectrum of human goodness and metaphysical wonder. We leave home entirely uncertain of what trials we will endure, but confident that we will come to a party at the end. We are so confident, that we wonder as we wander and laugh as we set out in the serious business of losing ourselves. The greatest joke in the universe, the greatest act of irony, is that to save our life we must lose it. It was so worthy of Isaac, of laughter, that God Himself was more than willing to become the punchline, taking Isaac (laughter's) place on Mt. Moriah when He stayed the hand of Abraham. So do not fear the storm. Do not weep over what is lost. What is lost was good, but what comes later, like at the end of a joke, is a Punchline worthy of both heaven and earth.

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