Mercy

Just now I came across some very unexpected free time and I said to myself (aloud, mind you,) “What if I wrote a blog entry right now?” So I’m doing that incredibly dangerous thing: beginning to write with no end of either kind in mind.

These couple weeks have been very busy. I’m playing in the pit for the musical, which has devoured my evenings, I’m beginning tutoring on Thursday, and lots of medium-sized assignments have begun to crop up out of nowhere. Also I’ve been having a fair number of meal dates. (Alice is popular—Hooray!)

All of these things have done a fair job of keeping my mind off of something I’ve been avoiding thinking about: mercy. You see, I always thought the principal thing about mercy was to give it. But I’m slowly beginning to realize that I’m not usually on that side of the transaction. I sin against God and sin against others, but since I’m no paragon of virtue, I find that people very rarely sin against me. So in my dealings with mercy it is usually being offered to me by kind, wounded hands.

I’ll tell you: I don’t like taking it. It’s not that I mind admitting I was wrong, but often, I cannot bear to be set right. I don’t like taking “the bleeding charity.” I would rather wallow in my sin and say, “No, but I belong here—you will not raise me up.”

That realization has been nagging at me for a few days now, asking me to deal with it, and today in Fantasy we talked about Return of the King. I re-read one of my favorite passages, the passage that first made me cry. But this time, to my great discomfort, I read it differently.

“Wormtongue!” called Frodo. “You need not follow him. I know of no evil you have done to me. You can have rest and food here for a while, until you are stronger and can go your own ways.”

Wormtongue halted and looked back at him, half prepared to stay. Saruman turned. “No evil?” he cackled. “Oh no! Even when he sneaks out at night it is only to look at the stars. But did I hear someone ask where poor Lotho is hiding? You know, don’t you, Worm? Will you tell them?”

Wormtongue cowered down and whimpered: “No, no!”

“Then I will,” said Saruman. “Worm killed your Chief, poor little fellow, your nice little Boss. Didn’t you, Worm? Stabbed him in his sleep, I believe. Buried him, I hope; though Worm has been very hungry lately. No, Worm is not really nice. You had better leave him to me.”

A look of wild hatred came into Wormtongue’s red eyes. “You told me to; you made me do it,” he hissed.

Saruman laughed. “You do what Sharkey says, always, don’t you, Worm? Well, now he says: follow!” He kicked Wormtongue in the face as he grovelled, and turned and made off. But at that something snapped: suddenly Wormtongue rose up, drawing a hidden knife, and then with a snarl like a dog he sprang on Saruman’s back, jerked his head back, cut his throat, and with a yell ran off down the lane. Before Frodo could recover or speak a word, three hobbit-bows twanged and Wormtongue fell dead.

Do you see me? Do you see me in the character I’ve always pitied, and, therefore, from whom I’ve felt comfortably separate? Do you see me in the refusal of the outstretched hand, the whimpering return to agony and rottenness? Do you see that it does not end well?

I don’t understand. I don’t understand why I would rather label myself with my sin than with God’s grace. I don’t understand why I do not want what is good. I don’t understand why I would rather be endlessly chastised than forgiven. I don’t understand why I’d rather look at my feet than at His glory.

I behave as if Christ on the cross meant nothing, as if “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” did not absolve me also, as if no one’s ever told me He loves me.

I feel a bit like the one hundredth sheep, who has caught herself deep in the briars. Come find me, Lord. I’m crying mercy, or beginning to, at the very least.

New Things

I wish you could see me right now. I’m sitting on a borrowed beanbag, cuddled in a blanket and an oversized purple sweatshirt, with the hood up. It has been up for hour, and I like it that way.

I don’t look like it, but I did two new things this week. The first one was that I wrote a poem. I love to write, but this was exactly the second time in my life I have voluntarily written poetry. I liked it, too, so I sent it in to The Quad. We shall  see. The other new thing I did was that I applied for a job at Campus Safety. I have great doubts that they will hire me, primarily because the man I to whom gave the application wasn’t even sure they had any openings, but can’t you just see me on patrol, 10-2 Saturday nights? Yeah, man. That would be an experience to relish.

I secretly find it a little exhilarating to do little new things like these. I will have to think of more new things. Maybe, when my roommate’s out, I’ll turn on some music and dance. Maybe I’ll study in the library for once and giggle loudly over my textbooks. Maybe I’ll make a pact to audibly say “Hello!” to seven strangers. Maybe I’ll read a novel. Maybe I’ll play Bach’s Prelude, and focus on smiling through the whole thing. See? I told you, very small things. I am not afraid of the big things, of my past or of my future. It is the little bits of here and now, the little sand grains of the present which make me cower. It is much easier to hold my head up and walk away than it is to hold my head up and walk in, and stop, and stand, and do.

So here’s to climbing trees, getting in the dang panini queue, and cinching in your hood so tight that all the world can see is a purple blob with a smile. “Happiness is finding out you’re not so dumb after all.”

Pew, Fitwell, and Other Finishings

I have come to the end times of my freshman year of college. Which is really not that big of a deal. At all. But, you know, I thought I’d talk about it anyway.

On Monday evening I had my last cello recital of all time. All year, you see, The Pew Fine Arts Center and I have had a rather tense relationship. In fact, I’ve gotten into the bad habit of referring to it as “Eeeeew…Peeeeeew.” (Because it rhymes, and I happen to think that’s funny.) I started college last fall rather naively thinking that since I’ve played cello for most of my coherent life, it would be natural to just keep on. I dropped out of orchestra after one rehearsal and was only kept from dropping lessons by my loyal parents. The thing is, the music majors scare me. Everyday, particularly last semester, I would march myself down to the practice rooms in the bowels of Pew where there is no cellphone reception, and no one will hear you scream, but everyone will hear you play. Even on the nastiest winter days, I always went the long way round outside so that I wouldn’t be walking through the lounge where they sprawl wretchedly across couches, complaining about practice hours and solfeggio, as if they are the only ones who really work. On my way down the nonsensical flights of stairs I usually stopped at the bathroom to give myself a little pep talk in the mirror, and I’m not really joking. I actually did that. After practicing Bach in a tiny grey room with a heavy door the color of raw meat for what was always a shorter time than I intended, I would play the one thing I still felt proud of–Amazing Grace, doublestops, fortissimo, eyes closed like a doofus. Then I would pack up and sneak out the way I had come.

The thing is, you may have the wrong impression of me about this, but I’m not musical. I can sing on key and play the cello, and I like doing so in most situations, but ask me what artists I listen to, and I will tell you the truth: none. I like words, and when it is not the time for words, I like silence. Deep down, notes and chords and harmony don’t mean that much to me. I’m not saying they are not as eternally significant (or insignificant) as any thing I read or write, just  that they are not the language I speak. Pew is not my place. I will be perfectly thrilled to go to class in the Hall of Arts and Letters for the rest of my college career.

That said, I am thankful to have parents ( a mother in particular) who were dedicated to my cello even, and especially, when I wasn’t. I’m thankful for the year of lessons I took here, and for my nice new bow that makes a pretty sound. During the week between Easter break and my recital I didn’t go over to Pew at all. I practiced in my room. I worked on memorizing my Bach, played hymns, and enjoyed the friendly, wide-eyed heads that poked themselves around my door. That was great. So on Monday night my nervousness was really pretty inexplicable. The only people who would hear me were my teacher who had heard me earlier and knew I could do it, Heidi who would love me anyway, and a couple dozen nice people who actually didn’t care at all how I sounded. Yet when I sat down on that stage with the rest of the kids playing Bach’s first suite, I put my cello to my chest and I could feel my heart thumping against it. Definitely not a resting heart rate. As I listened to the movements before me, the thumping got exponentially louder and faster. When my turn came, I put my trembling bow to the string, and the first note quavered audibly as I played it. The second note shook too, and the third, and so, to be honest did every note after that. It was a somewhat ridiculous performance. By the end of the suite (several movements and performers later) my shaking lessened somewhat, and by the time we got to the ensemble pieces I was able to zip through Cripple Creek and smile. As Heidi and I walked out, I cried about five tears from giddy relief. The only sign of me left in Pew is a big empty cello locker with my name misspelled on a piece of masking tape.

The other part of my life which officially terminated this week was Fitwell. Really, how was it that I ended up at one of the fittest colleges in the nation, where your physical condition affects your GPA? We have half a semester of lectures then another semester and half of “labs” (circuit training, mech weights, aerobic conditioning…) Then there’s a “Fitness Appraisal.” Aren’t you pumped just hearing about it? For girls, we’re scored on sit-ups, push-ups, flexed arm hang, broad jump, sit-and-reach, and (wait for it….) the step test! I improved since last semester, which was my goal, but of course I still only scored about a fifty percent. However, I don’t feel too bad, because the standards they use are the same as the U.S. Marines’. I’m finished, I never have to wear a grey P.E. uniform again, and the rite of passage is over. I’ve officially done my time as a Grover freshman.

Two more things before I go study for my next exam–As my sister pointed out, I can now rejoice in the fact that I’m officially half of a United States Marine. Also, one morning as I was plodding up the stairs out of Pew after a dismal practice session, a music major hurried past me, and as he disappeared down the hallway in front of me, I could hear him whistling Amazing Grace, louder than even I had played it. Just remembering brings me an overwhelming sense of victory.