Beginnings: The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien: A Reaction

Afternoon in the House

CatIt's quiet here. The cats
sprawl, each
in a favored place.
The geranium leans this way
to see if I'm writing about her:
head all petals, brown
stalks, and those green fans.
So you see,
I am writing about you.

I turn on the radio. Wrong.
Let's not have any noise
in this room, except
the sound of a voice reading a poem.
The cats request
The Meadow Mouse, by Theodore Roethke.

The house settles down on its haunches
for a doze.
I know you are with me, plants,
and cats --- and even som I'm frightened,
sitting in the middle of perfect

(Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise)

Reading this today I wondered for a moment what Jane Kenyon was afraid of. Her poem paints a picture of contentment -- an afternoon at home --- much as the one I am enjoying today. But then we know, don't we? Things seem too perfect. Anything is possible, and surely something bad must happen to break the harmony of this scene. Most people, myself included, have this knowledge, the sense that when life is good then around the corner inevitably lies some struggle, trial, or evil. For most of us it is a momentary anxiety that passes, a fleeting thought (thank God) of impending . . . well, impending something, and yet we know not what. A preoccupation with anxiety leads to a neurosis where we live in constant fear of the future. Some even become psychotic, losing touch with reality as the insuuferable possibilities press in on them.

I've wondered sometimes what keeps us sane. One thing I think does is a God-sanctified memory, an ability to remember God's faithfulness to us in the past and, thus, believe his promise of faithfulness in the future. Everyone (almost) remembers, but the anxiety-ridden cannot credit those memories of normalcy but fixate on the memories of struggle and hardship. Yet when God says remember in Scripture He is always reminding us of His Ffaithfulness to us.

Another antidote to anxiety is thankfulness, a focus on the good gifts we have. When and if struck by some calamity, I'm sure I don't have it in myself not to despair, and yet I trust and hope the Holy Spirit will turn my focus to the good gifts of God.

I used to dislike that verse from Phillipians 4:6, the one that says "Do not be anxious about anything. . . ." I mean, how do you make yourself not anxious? But then I realized the answer was really in the remainder of the verse, the "with thanksgiving" portion. You can't not worry sometimes, but you can change your focus, audibly thanking God for the inumerable blessings He has provided.

So, here I am too, in the middle of "perfect possibility," well aware that DOOM may come tomorrow, and yet today I'm rehearsing my thankfulness, doing my part to remember, trusting that when calamity strikes I'll know my lines well enough that I will still be thankful.