Notes From A Small Town Part II

Since today is a holiday, and I am still sitting in my parents’ kitchen drinking coffee, I have the chance to write another blog post. And because this weekend has been one marked by various thoughts and reflections, I hope the reader will forgive me for doing a post similar to that of yesterday, i.e. a few short ideas for your consideration. Though they will be tied together at the end, if you will bear with me.

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If you are no longer living under your parents’ roof, you will no doubt recall that there came that heady occasion, that right of capitalist passage, when you got to make your own decisions about things large and small in your own place.  Take your food and household product selection for example.  When you are in charge of taking care of yourself and no one else is expected to help, then you get to decide what brand of laundry detergent, or coffee, etc. you want to have in your own place.

And yet when you go home, it is curious how the same, familiar brands, which you grew up with and may not choose for yourself now, are the ones that seem comforting. Of course your mother uses Brand A detergent to wash the clothes, and Brand B detergent to wash the dishes, even though you buy whatever is on sale.  Naturally your father reaches for Brand Y coffee and prefers Brand Z butter, because he always has – why change now?  Not having these things in the pantry, under the sink, and so on, would create a sense that you had somehow wandered into the wrong house.

Is there a lesson, here, rather than just an observation? Perhaps we could say, choose what you like for your own place, but if you don’t really have a strong preference, then go with what Dad and Mom preferred.  We could also observe, Dad and Mom have established a routine with these things, because they realize that the freedom of having so many things to choose from is really more of a distraction, after awhile, from more important things we have to do.

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The desire to create some order from chaos struck me as I was watching an episode of Father Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” series last night on television with Mom – or rather, with Mom asleep next to me, as she was tired and a gentle-voiced priest from Chicago talking about Jesus and Thomas Aquinas was probably going to send her off to sleep, regardless of how interesting the talk was. I still have not seen all of the episodes of Father Barron’s series, just portions here and there, as I always seem to come in at the wrong time or miss it when it has been on.  It was good to sit down and get through one, complete episode for a change, particularly because it is such a beautifully shot and composed series overall, and Father Barron has such a clear, unfussy way of presenting things.

Several things he said during the episode I watched were ideas I wanted to be able to reflect on and read more about later; this is not an infrequent occurrence for me.  I may watch a television show like Father Barron’s, listen to a podcast, or hear a sermon at mass where there has been a particularly good piece of insight, perhaps once a week or more. And I then think to myself that I should write that insight down, so I can refer to it later.

If I am lucky I quickly type something into my phone or my computer, or jot something down on a notepad or a scrap of paper.  Yet I never seem to be good at systematically following up with these things, and transcribing them into some cohesive whole for future use.  Is it better to try to internalize the lesson learned at the time it is communicated, and then move on and get about your business?

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The preceding two ramblings are the sort of thoughts you (or at least I) tend to have when on vacation.  This is particularly the case when one is on holiday in a small, country town like this one, where there is very little to do, and frankly no real reason to do much of anything for the several days that one is visiting.  Like Thanksgiving, Easter, and other holidays, if you come from a small town and go home to visit for a few days, you will probably spend much of it loafing about, eating too much, falling asleep unexpectedly in a chair, and so on.

As pleasant as that may sound to continue indefinitely, being on a permanent holiday is not what we are meant to do with our lives. Going back to something Father Barron said in the aforementioned episode, if your primary goal in life is to accumulate pleasure and avoid pain, then you are not really living.  And Dad and Mom get about the business of life, rather than spending a great deal of time debating the minutiae of laundry detergent like some self-obsessed hipster taking his or her cues from whatever Madison Avenue wants him to believe.

All of us have things which we need to do, for ourselves and for others, which may be difficult at times, but definitely cannot be accomplished through a life of inaction brought about by indolence or by fear.  Whether we do nothing because we are lazy and want nothing but pleasure no matter how fleeting, or do nothing because we are afraid of our own mortality and bury our talents in the ground, either way the end result will be the same: disappointment.  We cannot live lives in a permanent vacation mode, revolving solely around avoiding reality.

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, and at mass we were reminded of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Looking at this list, I know which gifts I need to pray for especially, as I am going through some changes in my own life. And perhaps you, gentle reader, recognize some that you need for yourself, in your life.  Do you need to make more of an effort to understand your children or your co-workers? Are you making a bare minimal effort to pray? Are you willfully embracing ignorance in some aspect of your life rather than educating yourself?

This evening as I and many other Americans hit the road to go back to our regular lives at the conclusion of the Memorial Day weekend, we will probably be doing so with some sense of regret that the relaxation and time with family or friends cannot continue indefinitely. Americans will not have another three-day weekend like this again until Labor Day, at the end of summer. So now that summer is unofficially here, perhaps setting ourselves a goal to be able to return to those family and friends by summer’s end and say, “Look how things have improved since Memorial Day!” is not such a bad plan, is it?  Now there will be something to get the village talking.

“Village Green” by Thomas Rowlandson (c. 1800)
Private Collection

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