Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The Feast of the Slaughtered Innocents
I've been wanting to put up these pictures for the last two days. This is the front of our building in the blizzard: those white streaks not comets but snowflakes at 50 mph. I showed them to Mark, who said, that looks like what my eye's doing right now. They're also a pretty good representation of my inner life these past few weeks.
Blizzard and Mark's eye: those two things are linked for good from the here-on-out. Those who have been following the story of his failing eyesight know that his retina detached a second time in a month on Christmas night. Story compressed: He spends Christmas night in the ER only to find out that they can't do surgery till Monday morning. Monday morning rolls around; Mark manages to flag down one of the few cabs around to take him to the hospital. He gets to the hospital; hospital closed due to blizzard. Surgery rescheduled for this morning. He's examined by the doctor only to find out that the surgery is going to be more extensive and complicated than thought. The doctor needs his "whole team"--hard to assemble with all the operations postponed due to the storm. The surgery's rescheduled for later this week or early Monday. For the first time in a month he doesn't have to keep his head down. He might not remember how not to keep his head down. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well?
Meanwhile, Mark's vision has degenerated to the point where he can barely see out of that eye.
In the landscape of this crisis, I've been prepping to teach at the low residency MFA program I've been associated with for the last two years. I've been part queasy, part panicky about leaving home for five days and nights--especially given the initial recovery, which required Mark to be absolutely still for months. At the very least, how the hell was Ned going to be taken down three flights of stairs to the street? These are the kinds of things you plan for when you know you're going to be alone and immobilized. A different matter when your crisis takes place without warning, during the holidays, when most people are away. But we had all day yesterday to take care of what we could take care of.
My task today: Get to a certain New England state in time to teach my 9:30 nonfiction workshop. Two and a half-hour drive. 6 AM, still dark. The car refuses to move out of what's left of its snowbank, though I spent hours shoveling yesterday. The blood hammers in the jaw. I need to find another way. Amtrak--but I can't get in to Mystic till 1:43. I can get there in time to teach my seminar, but I'll have to miss my first workshop. I write to tell the Director of the program. Story compressed again: Director angry; I am angered by the Director's scolding tone and refusal to take in the matter at home. So here I am--home. Mark in the living room, Ned on the bedroom floor. (A lot elided between those sentences. Mark wants me to name the program, but I'll just say Jesuit university. I'm not sure why I'm not interested in naming the program, even as Mark reminds me I am certainly dropping the clues. Maybe the particulars matter less to me than the larger picture. The larger picture seems to be what's gotten lost in all this.)
The irony is that I was supposed to be teaching Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Revelation" this afternoon. I've been thinking about Flannery for weeks: The relationship between disruption and growth in her work, the deep respect for confrontation, even anarchic confrontation. Confrontation does bring about grace in O'Connor, even if it is sometimes accompanied by a gunshot to the head. I was going to start off today's seminar by saying that today is the Feast of the Slaughtered Innocents; I think O'Connor, as a Catholic, would have loved that. But there are never any Innocents in O'Connor's stories, which is why the stories are so hard and animated every time you come back to them. Mary Grace is no more an Innocent than Ruby Turpin is an Innocent. "It's no real pleasure in life," says The Misfit in the final sentence of "A Good Man is Hard to Find." I'm not sure that's always the case, but it's impossible not to feel strengthened, in the toughest times, by her cold, nourishing vision.