Monday, March 2, 2020

Not Red At All

I would like to tell you about an event that occurred in early spring of 1971, when I was four years old. I was at my friend John's house, swinging in the hay loft, when his mother called us. We went into the kitchen. John's mother - I forget her name but it might have been Jean - was standing by the stove with her back to us. She had a beehive hairdo which I loved. If you had asked me what color her hair was, I would have answered "red." She turned and took a single step toward us, which placed her perfectly in a ray of sunlight streaming from the west. "Sean," she said. "Do you want ketchup on your hot dog?"

And I could not answer. For in the light in which she stood her hair had become so luminous and beautiful that I forgot everything. Her hair was not red at all! It was mahogany and gold, livid like outdoor fires in winter, glassy and rippling and glowing like Bronson Brook at dawn. I felt that if I touched it my whole body would become a lick of flame of the sort that inspired the apostles. I felt that if I looked away I would lose the only thing I had ever seen that was worth seeing. Those who have eyes indeed!

In that moment - not wordily but with all being composing me - I saw clearly the poverty of language. What I had called "red" was orders of magnitude more complex. I saw that a word was dead compared to its referent. And I saw, too, the inherent unreliability of perception. For how had I missed this beauty? What games and other stupidities had distracted me?

I did not fall in love in that moment! John's mother was not then or after an object of my adoration. Rather, I learned that what we call "beautiful" is always the Lord, and that the Lord is always with us, but we have a bias against noticing this. What a gift to be alive and what a terrifying allowance, that one could overlook the gift entirely. Like prisms and chickadees, the external world was aligning with an interior map which pointed only at the Lord, if one would only vow to not forget. In this way, my course was set. And with only trivial exceptions, I have neither deviated nor turned back.

Of course this never happened, but telling you that it happened did happen - is happening right now, in fact. If you understand that I am not lying here but rather telling you the truth as it is given me to tell it, even though it never happened, will you hear? Between this sentence and the emptiness that by law follows it, will you say yes to the proffered light?

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