If you know anything about the universe you know that if you win an award for the pursuit of wisdom and virtue you are going to get a chance to continue the pursuit.
A few weeks ago, on a Friday night in July, I won that award. The Paideia Prize. Saturday morning I ended up on a panel where I foolishly disagreed with Martin Cothran on issues pertaining to farm life and reality. In my defense I was tired and rats always loom large in my mind. I could have lived with this if I had not immediately left to spend the week with my dad in Kentucky at a rehab facility, in former days called a nursing home.
It was not lost on me that here was a place full of wisdom slipping away. I spent the first couple of days hunched in a corner of my mind trying not to notice that my wisdom and virtue were paling. I couldn’t even bring myself to say hello to the poor suffering souls around me. I didn’t want to see them. Sitting there with my dad I had plenty of time to think. Before modern medicine we didn’t really need nursing homes. We died. But these days we can live for a long, long time, senseless and slobbering, kept alive by oxygen and pills. We moderns do not want to die and so we don’t.
So there my dad is in a nursing home. I am not sure I believe in nursing homes — skilled care they call it — but there he is because I am unable to care for him at home. I want to but I can’t. I am happy he is still alive. I wish he could talk to me, but I cling to him anyway. I don’t want to know what the world will look like when he is gone. The price I pay for not letting go is this place.
I am undone. I am walking down the hall with my little granddaughters to the vending machine. They are excited because my mother has given them each a dollar. We pass a lady in a wheelchair almost senseless except for the baby doll she is cradling. I pass her again the next day on the same errand only this time the baby is in a nursing position. I am undone.
I have just written a book called Mere Motherhood and here it is before me.
And then there is Rose. Each day she intrudes into my space to tell me I am pretty. Each day, as I try to ignore her, she engages me. “That is a pretty shirt.” “Ohhh, I like your necklace.” By day four I know her name. Four days for the person pursuing wisdom and virtue to ask a sweet little lady her name. Days later I find out Rose has a roommate, her mother. Once again I am undone. Rose is still a little girl looking for pretties. Her mother still pats her head and tells her she is sweet. What is this thing that God has called us to?
Down the road in Danville, Martin Cothran is probably tending his fierce, rat-killing chickens. Here in Richmond I am repenting.
I give. Everyone should have chickens.