[Editor's note: Rebecca Reynolds is a gifted writer, and is no stranger around here. She's written a couple of guest posts, is a two-time Hutchmoot speaker, and was Ron Block's collaborative partner on last year's "Walking Song." But for all that, today marks her first post as an official Rabbit Room contributor. Welcome, Rebecca. I'm glad you're here.]
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working through two Greek tragedies with my students. The first is Oedipus Rex, a devastating story about a man who unknowingly murders his own father before accidentally marrying his mother. The second tragedy is Antigone, which describes the pathetic death of a daughter conceived in the incestuous marriage of Oedipus.
The historical context of these tragedies is interesting to me. In modern times many writers and readers attempt to avoid “spoilers.” We don’t want the outcome of a plot to be known until the story gives it to us. However, when these plays were first observed, most of the audience already knew how the lives of Oedipus and his daughters would end. These legends had been embedded for years in the warp and woof of Greek culture. Because Greek plays were written for moral and civic instruction as well as for entertainment, the final “ta-da” did not necessarily trump lesser conflicts explored along the way.
Imagine experiencing this dynamic as a script writer. From the first words of the prologue, the average audience member knows more about the fate of poor old Oedipus than his character does. The punch line is told before the joke. How would you keep an audience engaged if the end is already exposed?
Instead of running from this challenge, Sophocles maximized it. He incorporated the dread and empathy of his audience as a key function of his narrative, almost like a painted scenic backdrop against which he contrasted the points he needed to make. In fact, the dramatic irony that drives this play is dependent upon the audience’s knowledge of what’s coming. Catharsis is achieved because Sophocles evokes love, fear, and pity for a doomed hero.
Unpacking all of this has been particularly fascinating, because over the past few weeks I have been thinking about how I carry my own past with me and how I tell its stories. I’ll be forty-two this year, old enough to have seen certain micro-plots of life worked to micro-conclusions. Yet, real life tends to move so quickly, the meanings I have assigned to those micro-plots have often been haphazard.
[Editor's note: On Friday we released a new song by Ron Block, Jeff Taylor, and Rebecca Reynolds (also featuring Julie Lee). Rebecca, the co-writer of the song, also wrote this companion piece. It's well worth your time.]
I wish I could tell you that I never have any doubts about God, but trust seems to run strongest in the very young and the very old in faith, and I am neither. When I say that I doubt, I don’t mean that I doubt everything. For instance, I rarely doubt that God exists. Walking in the decay of a December wood, reading through a journal of this year’s medical discoveries, listening to a Bach aria, scrolling through Hubble updates, I can tell that God lives.
The stuff of earth doesn’t provide a complete theology. In fact, it often leaves me with as many questions as answers, because the Almighty will not be pinned to a card like a giant stag beetle. However, the beauties and wonders of the universe do tend to point me toward a Creator. They whisper that He lives within and beyond the dimensions in which my brain operates.
What I doubt most often is that God loves me, and usually that doubt rises from pain. It can be hard for me to understand why Someone with the power to stop hurt wouldn’t do it.
I remember what it was like to want a baby.
I remember how it felt to walk through the grocery store
watching others dispose so recklessly
of everything I ached to be.
I remember mothers
(or so-called mothers)
snapping off ugly words
to curly-haired toddlers.
I remember mothers
(or so-called mothers)
sighing in exasperation,
ignoring bundles of angel on earth,
telling them to hush.
I remember seeing from a distance
the wonder of ten little curved fingers,
wrapped sweetly around a shopping cart handle.
I remember small voices saying,
and wondering what unforgivable thing
I had done
to become unworthy of that name.
It has been sixteen years,
but I will never forget Mother’s Day empty-armed,
trying to smile politely,
running to the church bathroom,
weeping the long, hard, labor of grief
behind a locked door.
Because of this, I define motherhood
a little differently than most.
I define motherhood
as the womb of creativity
and breasts of recreativity
Motherhood is an idea fluttering and kicking,
compassion fluttering and kicking,
social healing held upright on wobble knees until it walks,
wounds of the heart and body dressed and bandaged.
Motherhood is entrance into dark rooms
where fright cries out from sleep,
and motherhood is chasing away the monsters.
Motherhood is the renaming of the rejected,
it is the embrace of the lonely,
it is a Saturday picnic packed for the hungry,
it is the rocking of the forgotten
in the lap of an old, sweet song.
Motherhood is the soft, feminine hand of love
on the cheek of the world’s need.
For children are born and tended
in a million different sorts of ways.
The earth cries out,
and here you are to answer.
You are maternity,
and you are beautiful.
I peeled the sticker off my lunch pear, then ran it under the faucet, frustrated. It wasn’t a real piece of fruit. It was only a shadow of those knotty old fragrant pears Mom gathers every summer from Mrs. Janson’s hundred-year-old tree.
I shook it dry, scratched the skin with my thumbnail, and inhaled. The smell was faintly sweet, but a supermarket pear can’t fill a room with perfume. I could expect a watery crunch, not that honey-dripping mess of food you’ve just pulled out of the sun.
Later that night I prepared our beef for dinner. I had to cut away a sheet of plastic wrap before I could even touch it. I never saw the animal of origin. I didn’t know its farmer or its butcher. I didn’t know the state (or even the country) in which that life or its taking took place. Meat nowadays is stripped of all meaning. It has become an ingredient.
Anyone who has removed the head from a chicken will understand the difference between taking in a tray of meat and taking away a life. I remember being eight or nine and holding the body of a hen still as I could while Mom swung the axe. It was too much for me. At the last second I looked away and fell on my rear end in the Kentucky dust, overcome by the nerve force of death. The hen’s opened neck flung blood on my shirt, and I was too shocked to catch the body to stop it flopping.
According to C.S. Lewis, a scholar faces three enemies during a time of war. As I was reading through those tonight, I realized they are also the three enemies most of us face in the “war” of our day-to-day lives. I’ve selected a few quotes for your perusal. If you want to read the rest, check out his essay “Learning in War-Time” collected in The Weight of Glory.
The first enemy is excitement–the tendency to think and feel about the war when we had intended to think about our work. The best defence is a recognition that in this, as in everything else, the war has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one. There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.
[Rebecca Reynolds (aka "Becca") has quickly become one of my favorite writers. Her creativity has greatly affected my own in the past few months as we've been writing songs together. This post from her blog is typical of her depth of seeing and style --Ron Block]
Four months ago, the hillsides tumbled green upon green. Valleys and rises were determined by a narrow spectrum of shadows and brights. More or less, the landscape was monotone, summer lazy, and supple. Confident maple leaves hung in all their twenty-something vigor, familiar with hearty rain and heated winds, thinking they knew what there was to know.
I remembered being that age, so I didn’t laugh. Instead, I was tender, because October visits us all.
[Rebecca (aka BuckBuck the Nordic Wonderduck) originally posted this essay on her Facebook page. I thought it was pretty great and she was gracious enough to allow us to repost it here at the Rabbit Room. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I don’t remember ever pretending to be a [...]