Monday, July 28, 2008

Sleepless in Sodom

This blog is a year old now, and I've spent much of that year trying to parse my past and understand how it dovetails with my present: how I got, in essence, from there to here. I will be blogging somewhat more sporadically over the next few weeks, however. My husband is starting a new job in a different city, so, after twenty-three years in New York, I will be moving somewhere else.

I've lived many places within New York City itself. Each time I've moved, it's seemed like a hejira -- to use the definition Joni Mitchell chose for her 1976 album of the same name, a flight away from danger. In the past twenty-three years of my life in this city, years of inevitable missteps and irrevocable mistakes, I've often longed to be able to retreat to some place where no one would know me, and perhaps now I'll have the chance. But even starting over in a new place does not free one from oneself. For those who are conscious of the effects of their sinfulness upon themselves and the world -- those who've been fortunate enough to receive the gift of penitence -- the remembrance of the old self remains crushingly raw. The old self informs the new; as the historian of conversion Karl F. Morrison has written (quoted also below, in this post):

Conversion is often portrayed as a positive event, a turning toward. It also has a negative aspect, a turning away. The event of formal adhesion [to the new faith] may consist of this flight toward the future and from the past. But . . . . the old life overshadows the understanding of the new. The event may produce a transformation; but something resistant to change informs understanding it, and retention of the old may indeed have been a condition without which there could have been no change.

This sums up quite well my understanding of my own life. I don't believe that this or any other move will bring me the freedom from the old self about which I've fantasized for many years; but I hope that, in the new city, I will find a way to integrate past and present in a new way. Singing, Saint Augustine says in his commentary on Psalm 95, is building; perhaps I will be able to build something new.

Lot's wife, when leaving Sodom, defied God's command and looked back. I don't know how I can leave without looking back at my friends, loved ones, beloved colleagues and students, and not be overwhelmed with wonder at their brave lives and with sorrow at leaving them. But life is shot through with these leavetakings, some delicate and some devastating.

And now I will have to learn to drive.


Fallen Sparrow said...

this post reminded me of the following:


The just man followed then his angel guide
Where he strode on the black highway, hulking and bright;
But a wild grief in his wife's bosom cried,
Look back, it is not too late for a last sight.

Of the red towers of your native Sodom, the square
Where once you sang, the gardens you shall mourn,
And the tall house with empty windows where
You loved your husband and your babes were born.

She turned, and looking on the bitter view
Her eyes were welded shut by mortal pain;
Into transparent salt her body grew,
And her quick feet were rooted in the plain.

Who would waste tears upon her? Is she not
The least of our losses, this unhappy wife?
Yet in my heart she will not be forgot
Who, for a single glance, gave up her life.

- Anna Akhmatova (tr. Richard Wilbur)

Pentimento said...

Thank you for sharing this, Fallen Sparrow. It is really beautiful.