Neat

“I had a dream | We were sipping whiskey neat
Highest floor, The Bowery | Nowhere’s high enough…
Who’s gonna walk you through the dark side of the morning? | It ain’t me” -Selena Gomez

 

It was just another empty house.

I see so many of them in our business. They line up in my memory like little Monopoly tokens, always the same: mailboxes yawning open with debt collection letters sticking out, blinds ripped apart and hanging down in the windows, old rusty grills still presiding hesitantly over the back decks, all the rooms inside piled with broken-down furniture and food wrappers and crumpled VHS covers and an occasional pile of wrinkled clothes. They are testaments to the reasons why people usually get foreclosed on: because they just don’t care any more.

But this one was different.

I knew when I pulled into the driveway that this place once had been someone’s most cherished dream. The grass was growing up all around it, but almost apologetically. It was as though Nature had taken over out of reluctance out of pity for her former constituents.

It was a small home but well-built. Beige siding and a red metal roof, black shutters and a welcoming window in the front door all beckoned you to come inside and stay awhile. A charming child’s playhouse, obviously built by hand, was nestled in the yard sheltered by a spreading maple. Across the yard was a horse pasture with a trim little stable beside it. Up above a tidy garden with benches and trellis and paving stones there was a white flagpole, but there was no flag waving over it any more.

Everything was “done right”, as we say in construction. Floors laid neatly, paint cut in to perfection, drywall corners perfectly square, the kitchen well laid out. Even the well pump outside had a little stoop built for it with a shingle roof. All the floors were broom-clean, and there was not a thing out of place.

There is a quiet that echoes through your soul, when you know you are in a space that has seen a lot of life. Some family lived here, worked hard, loved well, and had to leave. What had happened?

I walked around the corner and knew instantly that something was different. A neatly hand-lettered piece of paper was tacked up on a little cork bulletin board in the breakfast nook. I stood there stunned as I read what was written on it:

I have been measured and weighed

I have been found lacking

I am no longer the watcher of my domain

I stand in utter despair

The only truth I know is that my heart is broken

I am so very tired

The quiet of the peaceful setting had evaporated instantly, as my heart cried out within me under the onslaught of the simple stanzas. I had never seen anything like this. Someone had put all their affairs in order and left their beloved home, and before they left, they had poured out their anguish in this carefully penned epigram. It was not written by an academic, yet this was absolutely someone accustomed to deep intellectual engagement, who was unusually emotionally aware, and whose normal mode of thought was richly storied narrative.

My sword no longer defends and My light no longer cuts the darkness are not analogies you expect to hear from your typical dispossessed Virginia redneck, who is a lot more concerned with the NASCAR results than he is with a philosophical perspective on life. They are far closer to the stoical response of a Cincinnatus, who has tasted of glory but has had the wisdom to hold it with open hands, freely giving up the laurels of public life to return to the pastoral setting his heart had never left behind; except that in this case Vesta had forbidden him from the warmth of his beloved hearth, and he was cast outside the gates of the pagus.

In this day of technological availability, it takes me about 30 seconds to discover that the previous owner of the home had suffered a tremendous tragedy a couple of years ago: the death of his child. Suddenly everything starts falling in place. The overgrown child’s playhouse outside begins to take on a new meaning, as I begin to realize something of the depth of the hurt he must have been feeling, from the deadly quiet left by the loss of someone he loved more than his own self.

Whether it was a man writing or not, I could innately identify with the perspective. Every man feels about his own home a deep-seated protectiveness, a need to defend with the sword and to cut the darkness with a light. He feels his God-given calling to take care of those in his charge from anything that threatens them.

For that is our greatest fear – every man who was ever born – that we will not be enough to take care of them. We fear that somehow our masculine strength will fall short, our intuition will fail us, the chaos we work against every day will finally overcome us, and we are measured and weighed and found lacking. The ability God gave us to shepherd the beauty of our family and provide for their needs will betray us; and the neatness of the smooth liquor of life we once sipped from will rise up to condemn us, for it was only ever a dream. And the people we once trusted to have our backs hesitate, and they are troubled at the force of our fall, and they look away from our ruin; they will not meet our gaze any more, and the loss of our goods is second only to the loss of those we once called kindred. And the callous It ain’t me is the only answer there is to our pleas for help.

As I meditate on how very similar our stories are – mine and his – I am overcome with the desire to find him and speak to him. I want to tell him that there is hope. I want to say to him the words of Jesus, since I know my own will only ring hollow:

You can be measured and found perfect in Christ Jesus

Because of your Good Shepherd, you can lack nothing

He Who watches over you will never slumber nor sleep

He offers you a hope that will not disappoint

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Lay down your burdens and come to Him, and find rest for your soul

I softly close the door, leaving the home to its peace, and I murmur a quiet prayer, “Lord Jesus, please let someone somewhere speak these words to him. You know what it is to be forsaken.”

JV

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