Sunday, September 22, 2013

Composing a Day

Louis Armstrong is playing walk-up music for a September storm. I don't know what God looks like, but I picture him blowing a horn, conducting a storm, looking a lot like Louis.

I'm sitting on the back deck, drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon, Louis on the stereo blowing through the window, watching the storm approach. It's a singular moment. The day has been full of them. Watching our girls play field hockey. Making jambalaya for lunch. Getting out Halloween decorations. Buying mums. Sometimes the profound lives in the mundane. But I have to look for it.

Now it's morning coffee. Sunrise after a rain storm. Church. Sunday football. A Nationals double-header. A day with family.

The thing about Louis Armstrong's horn, you only know it by the pauses, the silences that surround the notes. Days are like that: notes and pauses and bridges between the two. Each day is a composition, part structure, part improvisation. The thing a jazz man can teach me about composing a day: always make room for improv--those singular, watching a storm roll in moments that you can't structure.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Confessions from an Employment Sabbatical

Forgive me, Father, it's been almost three months since I was last employed. It's not for lack of effort. I can't tell you how many jobs I've applied for. I'm told summer is a bad time to look for a job. What's a seeker to do?

I sit down at the picnic table at the Oxford Park at noon. The bells of the church next door begin to chime, playing "Amazing Grace" as I eat my lunch and read Frederick Buechner's "The Alphabet of Grace." Maybe there is a theme working here.

It's funny, Father, I think I've learned a few things during my employment sabbatical. Or maybe remembered is a better phrase. Or I was reminded. I wouldn't trade the last couple months for any job I could have had.

Here's what I've found:

Family. We've traveled more, done more, and spent more time together this summer, with my wife and the girls out of school than any other summer since we've had the girls. Since school has been back, I've been able to take them to school and pick them up, help with homework, take them to field hockey practice and make dinner. None of that happened while working in DC.

Time. Yes, it's part of "Family," it's the backdrop for everything else, but I'm not forgetting it. The hours in a day didn't tick by the same, and hopefully they will mean something different from here on.

Community. Helping family and friends move things, taking and picking up friends' children from school, reconnecting with our church community, including a former high school chemistry teacher I wrote about, and feeling my own roots here again, where I had been neglecting them.

Faith. There will be more to say on this one. I'm not fully sure what I've got here, but it's been taking a cue from Buechner, who says, "Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace." (from "Now and Then"). I've been listening to my life. What else could I hear?

There's more, Father, but let's just keep it to the big bullet points.

I get on my single-speed bike and ride around Oxford: down to the ferry dock, the Strand, by old friends' houses, out to the end of Bachelor's Point, with smells floating on the wind. I come back to the park and sit down again. The sun hits the river and the water sparkles with the sublime. A single piling juts above, oblivious.

A man is overzealously brushing his beagle-looking dog. A girl sits on a bench reading a book with the sun and the river breeze in her face. Cicadas connect the trees in a web of clicks and chirps. A small, overworked outboard motorboat pushes a makeshift barge up the river. The sun lands on my picnic table, lighting my glasses, which rest on Buechner's book.

Yes, Father, I've found a job it seems. back in DC. My employment sabbatical is coming to an end. Yes, it is good to have a job. I certainly need one. Sabbaticals are expensive. But I can't put a price on what I've found with this time. How bout we leave off with Buechner:

"You are alive. It needn't have been so. It wasn't so once, and it will not be so forever. But it is so now. And what is it like: to be alive in this maybe one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and be alive in it." (from "The Alphabet of Grace.")