I come through the front door soaking wet.
It had been awhile since I had stepped through that doorframe.
Earlier that afternoon, my tires had been low on air. Luckily for me, the heavens had decided to unleash the second coming of the flood this particular afternoon. My Australian boots barely kept out the deluge as I struggled to put air in my two left tires. Rain soaked through my jeans and hooded sweatshirt and I appeared on Kate’s front stoop, dripping like a drowned rat.
I see Ashley on the couch, snuggled up under a grey beanie and a blanket and surrounded by burning candles, reading Catcher in the Rye. I had just read Don Miller’s blog about how his book Blue Like Jazz was basically a blend of Catcher in the Rye and Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. I tell her about this. We talk about how we’re convinced we’re the only people in the universe that never read this book in high school. Kate comes in, offers me some coffee. I ask if there’s tea. She puts a teapot on the stove.
I round the corner, and see Cooper is sitting in the kitchen, typing away on his laptop trying to complete an economics paper. Cooper peers at me from behind dark rimmed glasses and acknowledges me with a warm greeting. Cooper is a brooding, idealistic-looking guy. I knew several guys like him from university. They were all religion philosophy majors and liked to sit around on front porches and unravel the mysteries of life. I think he’s a vegan, because we had a conversation about organic beer once. Our first shy conversation was about the collected works of Thomas Merton. Anybody who likes Thomas Merton can’t be too bad.
I ask him what he was writing about.
“I have no idea what that is.” Immediately my mind forms this mental image of a board meeting of apes, sitting around a glazed oak table, conspiring to takeover the world by controlling the media, government offices and all major corporations.
“Say a guy comes up to you while you’re in a bar, strikes up a conversation. At some point, he suggests you buy a certain brand of beer. So you do. Then the guy disappears. You find out later, it turns out, he works for the beer company.”
Sneaky buggers. “Oh. Guerilla marketing.” That makes more sense.
“So Kate,” I turn to her. “I’ve been a vegetarian for three weeks now.”
“Oh yeah? How’re you feeling?”
“Pretty good. I haven’t felt like I have missed meat. Yet.”
She proceeds to tell me horror stories of she felt when she first turned vegetarian. Apparently her immune system shut down and she had chills and fever. I vigorously hope that doesn’t happen to me.
Cooper had perked up at this news of my recent conversion to vegetarianism. “May I ask why you became a vegetarian?” he interjects very politely.
“Lots of reasons. Animal abuse, factory farming, environment…” I trailed off. I expected he understood.
“I’m just curious,” he said apologetically. “I imagine you’re tired of answering that question.”
“Not at all.”
The teapot whistles from the kitchen and I help myself to some mint tea.
“Come help keep me company while I clean my room,” yells Kate at me, as she disappears into her room. I step through Jeanne’s old room, to find her king-size loft disassembled, laying in pieces on the ground. The wooden frames and bolts adorned the room like museum pieces from a bygone era. It was like stepping through a time portal into the past, only everything had changed. Flash sideways into a parallel universe.
I hold the steaming mug in my hand, perch on Kate’s window seat while the rain falls steadily outside.
“You must read this,” she says, tossing me Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kate’s room is a haven for bookworms and fashionistas alike. Stacks of journals and well-worn paperbacks line the walls and floors, and beautiful, funky pieces of vintage clothing flung and draped across the bed, closet, floor.
Kate just lets me talk, occasionally casting out cautious questions like an expert fisher.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for my heart and mind. Life is changing. Future is uncertain. Change and anxiety has a way of exposing the insecurities and fears within my own heart. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt the fog of mild depression descend, but it’s starting to cloud my vision. I’ve been through this half a dozen times before, but it always feels like the end of the world when it’s happening. Fear and distance and vulnerability and emotions intertwine in this tangled web and for tonight, I’m simply tired of trying to unwind the strands. I do my best to explain most of this to Kate, but part of me realizes she intuitively understands most of this without my words. Probably why she has me over here in the first place.
All the while she is uncovering old photographs, dusting them off, throwing away useless bits of paper, sweeping the floor. Cami, Kate’s dog, who I imagine would be a 40 year old hairdresser from Brooklyn hops up on the windowseat and curls up at my feet. I have missed that dog who guards the house from robbers and cockroaches with equal effectiveness.
At one point, Kate joins me on the windowseat, propping her legs up on the cushion like a Buddhist sage. She turns to me and says, “Whenever you get devastated by something, you have to ask yourself if the reason you feel devastated is because something has replaced your affection for Christ.”
Something breaks inside. It feels a lot like repentance, but I’m not quite sure. I chalk it up to the chill in the room and leave for a few minutes to heat up some more water for tea. I toss my soaked clothes into the dryer, hoping for warmth to cover the chill. I find a blanket, and try to make myself cozy.
I think about what she says. I’m realizing that for the past 11 months, my heart has wrestled with nothing more than this idea of idolatry. Of good things becoming ultimate things. It’s such a subtle motive, yet over the past year I found it at the root cause of every offense of mine.
We talked books, sermons, Ecclesiastes, travel, writing, Myers-Briggs (always), old loves, emotions, introspection. Three and a half mugs of mint tea later, I can see the wooden floor, and all of the dust and dirt has been neatly swept away, the clothes hung in the closet and folded (or stuffed) into the dresser. The rain has stopped cleansing the world for the moment and the faint orange glow of a sunset breaks through the trees. And I can’t help feeling that the room and I and the world have been liberated in some way tonight.
Kate is always giving away her things and tonight is no exception. I walk away with a bag full of candles and a jewelry box, one that strangely reminds me of this box from Splendid China.
“Thanks for helping me clean. Success!” Kate is victorious tonight.
And so am I.
It wasn’t until I drove away that I realized what I great comfort I found in that house tonight.