There's a small town in South Carolina that you wouldn't much care to go if you didn't live there or know someone who did. My grandparents lived there. Not in a neighborhood, but a street of homes, tucked into trails and trees, and if you had a good eye and a craning neck, you could look up long drives and see them.


In my grandparents' slice of forest, there was a double clothes line and a sack of pins; a bird house on a tall pole; a wheel-made path for a gocart (and a slightly banged corner of a shed via me); a swatch of golfing green and a framed net; tall, tall trees that got mad in the wind, held a vendetta and told you about it; birds that sung the grocery list to you, and you listened like you'd never heard the words; a half-built tree house; a weak swinging vine; a lazy stream and fool's gold, ravine after ravine, the rooms of our childish fantasy.


Sometimes I get real homesick for those woods on Wicklow. Mom says that if we had better memories we would be a morbid people, and I agree. As it is, I'm tempted to make a summer home there.


It's not because I despise my life, though, and maybe that's the problem - the temptation to walk away from wonderful for the sake of what was wonderful. My littlest boys' deep river eyes look full into mine now, hold the gaze. His little voice explores and calls out, echoing the sounds he hears. My big one collects cicada shells, and holds a stink bug on his finger like he's parading around with a parakeet; he says it's a pet but it doesn't need a name.


I read a quote from C. S. Lewis the other day. He said, "The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career." I read it to my husband and he said, "you want a raise, don't you," and we laughed real good at that. But seriously, who could put a price on this? This is living, not "a living," and we're filthy rich on fool's gold, and that's the way I like it.

Once, when my mother was just a girl, my Grandma was walking around calling for her. There continued to be no answer and Grandma was calling and calling, searching around everywhere to find her. Finally, she found mom sitting on the ground. When Grandma asked her sternly, “Debbie, didn’t you hear me calling for you?” she calmly looked up and said, “yes, but you didn’t say come here.”


When all her kids got together, Grandma was most in her element. Inevitably, one of the kids would tell a story that she hadn’t heard before, and she’d be left round-eyed and laughing, shaking her head at them before leaning over conspiratorially to us grandkids to tell us that our parents were naughty children. Grandma could tell more stories of smeared lipstick and poofed diaper powder and disassembled somethings than a person could put in a book. She loved to tell the stories.


There’s never anything perfect to say when a person dies. The weight of our human disparities is ridiculously hard to hold. Truths intersect like a maze of highways, thoughts careening over and under bypasses: I hold her imperfections with such a fondness, and I remember how right it was to sit around a table and laugh with her. I’m glad the suffering is done now. I miss her. Mom picks up the phone to call her and cries. I keep picturing her in her chair, coloring with colored pencils some delicate floral sketch. I’m trying to rewire my brain to understand that she’s not here, but it won’t stick.


I like to picture a person in heaven. It’s the most unimaginable thing to imagine, like thinking, what was there before there was nothing? The brain can’t conceive. But I like to do it anyway, because I know she’s somewhere, laughing with her sisters, hugging her mom, grabbing my cousin and melting down in some tearless joy that my he just looks so strong now. Maybe she’s in a recliner coloring, even. Whatever it is, I know it’s good, and I know her brain is still spinning with conversation. I bet she’ll get a chance to host a party up there, which was her favorite. I have to remember that my people aren’t gone. No one’s lost in the ether. When I get there, having assumed in my earthly simplicity that they’ve been snoring for decades, they’ll greet me with, “I have so much to tell you!” and I’ll sit back and listen to all the memories that have formed them after death. These new, brilliant creatures, every bit what I remember and better.




In “The Book of Virtues,” William J. Bennett writes, “In self-discipline, one makes a disciple of oneself. One is one’s own teacher, trainer, coach, and ‘disciplinarian.’”


And, well, on this here Tuesday, isn’t that a punch to read? That you are your own disciple. It’s a strange way of thinking. Unsettling, maybe, to realize we have such a responsibility and power of authority. That the way we think, the voices we mic in our minds, have a great bearing on who we are and what we will become.


Of course, that’s simple. A one plus one equation. That what we believe has immeasurable bearing on us. Still, I think the word “disciple” elevates the idea. It’s intentional (or it should be); it speaks to study and practice and ritual. This might be somewhat circular reading, and I’m a little sorry for dragging you through this written processing with me (though not sorry enough to delete it, hah!). But, what a powerful way of terming it – us as our own disciples. It feels very sneaky that this word has been hiding within “self-discipline” all along and it’s taken this wonderful commentator to parse it out. (Perhaps you have known this all along, dear reader, and in that case, I doff my hat.)


 

If you ask my father who he was as a child, he will be brutally honest. He will make a face using every facial muscle, wherein his eyes fly up into his skull and everything else tightens. He’ll use words like “terror” and “rascal” and you will start to wonder about that boy.


He has told us how he lit his basement on fire with gasoline, and how his father had to leap through the flames to claim him, and his mother had to care for the burns all over his body. I’m not sure this was malicious, but his father told him to stay away from the gasoline, and the thing got knocked and spilled itself in rivers to the water heater. The danged thing flamed all over.


I think there was some consternation over that boy for some years. He was a fighter, for sure. A neighbor kid sicked their dog after him once, and he still has the scars to prove it. He learned to run, and if not run, then to grit and anger it out. He was called names at school, and he let them know he didn’t take to that. He told my brother early on to keep cool under pressure. Ignore the bullies, laugh at the easy teasing, because the worse way is to burst your own self into flurry flames and fisticuff the justice.


What I’m saying is, the man is not the boy. He will tell you that it was the Lord who tempered him, and I wouldn’t question that. He was a kid who God searched out. He changed, really changed, and everybody saw it. The passion is still there, the grit and determination, but as the healthiest disciples know, there’s a greater power than they at work, refining the inherent qualities.


 

I was scanning an article about a recent case, where the jurors are facing a heavy decision – as they always are – about which way to turn the verdict. It’s heavily politicized – as everything is – and they were warned by the judge to not let anyone’s opinion sway them. There are some mighty opinions weighing in, and I can hardly imagine being able to shrug them all off, slipping, as they are supposed to, into some utopian state of pure right judgment.


It made me think of Bennett, though, and his virtuous book, which we discussed in rings and rounds at the start of this piece. He tells the reader in the introduction that none of the stories inside will tackle the touchy discussions of the day. But, he adds, “a person who is morally literate will be immeasurably better equipped than a morally illiterate person to reach a reasoned and ethically defensible position on these tough issues.”


My best friend gave me this book after my son was born. She said her momma used to read it to her and her sisters when they were young. It’s old-fashioned and wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed diving in even a little. Grab yourself a copy, if it sounds intriguing. It strikes against today’s world like a ringing gong, and I like it.