Sunday Letters
Our new house in Arden
14 MAY 2000

Dear Friend,

. . . So much has happened this week. Usually I start with whatever comes to mind. I don’t want to do that this time. If I did, you’d hear about today’s tour of homes and gardens in Arden, a village that has attained mythic proportions in many of your minds. You’d hear about my new bumper sticker, “One Tree, One Vote.” You’d hear about the house we are buying, built in 1909 by architect Will Price and added onto by nearly everyone who lived there. We’ll add onto it, too. Just now Barbara and I were talking about building a garage. She wants one with an attic.
. . . Speaking of Barbara, she just got back from a week in Vancouver, British Columbia, the site of the Medical Library Association’s annual meeting. She had a good time there, a miserable flight back, and her luggage has yet to catch up with her. If I wasn’t so dependent on her, I would have had a great time while she was away. As it was, I only went to see one “guy” flick -- “Gladiator.” This is a movie with lots of thumbs up AND down.
. . . Like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Gladiator” starts with a riveting battle scene with the good guys fighting the Germans. The concept of “glory” in the two films is remarkably different. Naturally, I prefer the American version of glory to the Roman version. In the American version of glory, one soldier will make an almost Christ-like sacrifice of his own life to save a brother’s. In the Roman version, well, it’s “glorious” no matter how many die as long as your soul is defiant.
. . . Those are the kind of things I’d talk about if, and only if, I started telling you whatever came to mind about the past week. Too, you might hear about David Borofka’s “My Life as a Mystic” -- an excellent short story reminiscent of Walker Percy that appears in the new issue of Image. I read this story while walking through Pierce’s Woods and around the formal Italian gardens of Longwood. My friend Larry Gorman still can’t believe I can read and walk at the same time. I can. Sometimes I chew gum. Someday I hope to walk while reading a story about someone who reads while walking. The experience might be epiphanal -- you know, like walking between two parallel mirrors.
. . . I could talk about my conversation with an Irishman who’s been in this country for fifteen years and still thinks of Ireland as home. While we shared a wee bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, he talked about Irish music, about meeting a musician who had been playing every Friday night in the same band in the same pub in Ireland for twenty-five years. Now this was impressive -- you know what I’m saying? -- but then, get this, this musician had played the fifteen previous years in the same pub but with a different band; altogether, forty years. That’s amazing, like being married to the same spouse for forty years and still loving it.
. . . Your week was probably more full than mine. (Don’t ask how something can be “more full” -- if a New York Yankees catcher can understand the concept, so can you.) My week was empty of my wife’s loving affection until she returned on Friday, which is to say it was as desolate as the southern Sudan in wartime. If life went on while she was gone, I barely experienced it, anesthetized as I was by the narcotic of separation.
. . . One day, for example, I met The Miserable Man Who Smiled. I stopped in for grapefruit juice and crumb donuts at the Exxon station on the way to work. Between accepting two bucks and making change, the guy behind the counter tells me about his wife. His wife is 90%. “What 90%?” I asked. “Ninety percent of women are bitches,” he says with a smile. Why was he smiling and saying such rubbish? That remained, and remains, a puzzle. Turns out he and she are about to celebrate their 50th anniversary. He was happy about it -- or was his smile ironic? “My son’s the same way,” he says. “My son goes to the store, buys two packages of spaghetti on sale, and his wife explodes at him, says they don’t need spaghetti, takes it back to the store to get a refund, using up more gas driving than my son paid for the spaghetti, and all he was trying to do was save some money.” So said The Miserable Man Who Smiles. He loves his job behind the counter, talking to the waves of humanity that wash into his store. Like me, he drinks grapefruit juice.
. . . That same day I had lunch with a beautiful woman about to graduate from college. (Did it take my mind off my desolate loneliness? Not at all.) It was her last day as one of our interns so I was treating her. She talked about the man she loves, how they’d been together two or three years, and how she looks forward to the years ahead. They’re in for difficult times. She’s moving back in with her parents while looking for work in New York City. He’s staying behind to finish school and doesn’t have work either. All the same, she’s full of hope and so positive about the future that it wouldn’t surprise me if their lives turn out well, even in a world like mine.
. . . I don’t want to mention any of that. If I did, I wouldn’t have time to talk about the mysteries of living that confront us all. In particular, I wouldn’t have time to talk about one of the big questions of love. This is what I want to talk about: should we pursue what pleases our hearts or change our hearts so what we already have pleases us? Much of religion suggests the latter, that we should learn to love “what is” rather than rejecting “what is” in favor of some dream or hope. Yet religion, Christianity in particular, is full of talk of hope, of enduring “what is” in hope of a better future.
. . . This question comes up again and again in many practical ways. For Barbara and I, it came up recently in buying a house. It is seldom clear when to continue looking and when to stop. When you look at one house after another and they all make you cringe; when your spouse is so upset they can’t talk to you; when you don’t have any reason to believe you’ll find something better and yet continue to search -- you know how troubling such questions can be. Similar questions arise when looking for the right mate or even the right word. How long do you keep looking?
. . . As it is we waited four months -- long enough to find a house we like and think we might love. Will we love it? That remains to be seen. We are happy and hopeful.
. . . Will you love it? Pay us a visit and find out. (It has a guest bedroom.) After your visit and a time to talk, perhaps your search for a better world will appear in one of these paragraphs, even if I’d rather talk about something else, like arboreal suffrage.

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The photos above are of the house we're in the process of buying and its attached rental unit. All words and images copyright Danny Nelson Schweers 2000.

"Spontaneity takes practice."