Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Craggy Island

I'm sure, gentle reader, that -- if you're not already a fan -- you would be shocked and horrified by the extreme irreverent humor of the old RTÉ sitcom Father Ted. For the uninitiated, the show's premise is that three venal, callow, and feckless men (who happen to be priests) are exiled together on a benighted island off the west coast of Ireland, having been sent there as punishment for various egregious infractions committed on the job. For Father Dougal, it was the unmentionable "Blackrock incident," in which many lives were irreparably damaged; for drunken reprobate Father Jack, it was "that wedding at Athlone," his actions at which are never revealed, but the mere mention of which causes a leer to light up his ravaged face. The titular character, Father Ted himself, made off with a parish fund meant to send a sick child to Lourdes, and went to Vegas. Now, in their shared disgrace, the three fallen priests must learn to cope in a strange, backward place, far from the not-inconsiderable perks of their former lives and under the thumb of a corrupt bishop, while having cups of tea continually forced upon them by their overzealous housekeeper, Mrs. Doyle. (The photo above shows Fathers Dougal and Ted protesting the showing on Craggy Island of the controversial film "The Passion of St. Tibulus.")

When we first moved here, I admit to feeling a bit like Ted and his comrades, having been uprooted from a much more enjoyable place and a much more connected relationship to it, and placed in a semi-rural area ravaged by social problems similar to, but, it must be said, exponentially greater than those in the city. I was lonely; I was isolated; I couldn't drive; I couldn't find a teaching job to replace the dearly-loved one I had to leave in New York.  I couldn't figure out the suchness, the quiddity, of my new environs and its denizens. And, worst of all, I felt that I was in a dull, dreary place that was a poor match for my . . . specialness, the specialness I'd long believed to be my birthright.

All of which makes me realize, three years into this adventure, how good, how necessary it was for me to be uprooted from my formerly beautiful life as a teaching artist and intellectual mom in New York City, where everything was just the way I like it. It was necessary for me to leave aside -- not that I've completely succeeded -- my idea of myself as someone special, someone deserving of a certain amount of connection, attention, and enjoyment.  I used to walk the streets of my new town and admit to God that He'd really slammed me down but good this time -- all right, Uncle already -- and could He please shine a little light on my now drastically-narrowed path and, little by little, though not in any dramatic, epiphanic way, He did. Little by little, it began to dawn on me that a good life is not necessarily the life that we planned. I even began to consider that I might try sacrificing my own yearning for aesthetic fulfillment for the more pressing and immediate needs of those around me.

There are other good things about this place: the natural beauty, my son's wonderful school and his masterly violin teacher, the fact that the income-to-cost-of-living ratio made it possible to adopt our son Jude, who is coming home soon. And learning how to drive has made me feel like a normal person -- maybe not normal in the old way, the kind of normal conferred by walking for miles through neighborhood after city neighborhood, meeting friends and colleagues, performing, teaching at my inner-city urban college -- but normal in the sense of having a place somewhere, a locus from which I might possibly be able to make other, different contributions.

I will lead the blind on their journey;
by paths unknown I will guide them.
I will turn darkness into light before them,
and make crooked ways straight.
These things I do for them,
and I will not forsake them.

-- Isaiah 42:16     


ex-new yorker said...

I guess everybody's both special and not special... but I have to admit, you seem like you are "special" in quite a few ways. I guess the thing is God doesn't give people gifts and talents so they can spend their lives seeking recognition for themselves. (I don't mean to mischaracterize you as "seeking recognition" if that doesn't capture it, but I'm sure you get my general drift.) I mean, you sing, you write, you have interpersonal gifts too, it seems (I am not sure how much of that was there pre-reversion, but it sounds like some?), and I don't know what else. Maybe part of having gifts like those is the opportunity to, at times, sacrifice what you want to do and what good you envision you could do for others with those to follow God in a different direction. Or maybe that's part of what you just said...

J.C. said...

Hi Pentimento,
There have been so many of your posts on this topic that I've wanted to comment upon, but my computer time has been curtailed during Lent and I wasn't sure I could do them justice anyway. I felt from time to time like we've had somewhat parallel experiences (I moved to another country newly-married and pregnant, etc.), although I think most married women go through a kind of identity crisis in one way or another (and the "posts" I carried around in my head during those years were mostly whiny and unrealistic and not exquisitely beautiful and poetically insightful as yours are!!) But I just had to write to say how glad I am to hear that you are in a better place. I think you really hit upon the common denominator experienced in growing up in the context of almost any vocation in one word--entitled! Once you realize that God's plan is infinitely better than yours, so much of the confused hurt dissipates, even if the experience continues to be painful and difficult. And sometimes God mercifully allows one, in retrospect, glimpses into that plan so we may actually be grateful for those crosses in our lifetime. But of course, it always sounds and feels so condescending to say so someone who is actually living their private experience. May God continue to bless you and congratulations on the adoption of your son! I'm really going to have to look for this Father Ted series.

Pentimento said...

Thank you, ladies. J.C., a caveat about Father Ted -- it's pretty hilarious, but it really is VERY irreverent.

ElizabethK said...

My goodness, but I could relate to this post. I went through this kind of experience about ten years ago, and what you said about "specialness" made me see the experience in a whole new light. In my case, I returned to the 'burbs where I'd become an angsty teenager and tried to figure out how, exactly, this had happened to me. I tried to write about it a few years ago, but just ended up feeling depressed. But your insight makes me want to pull out that old essay and finish it.