Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Roadhouse Madonna Two

In the second place, as far as ordinary catechetical education goes, Toby had known very little about the Virgin Mary. Singing Silent Night at Christmas, or browsing the minimal references that occurred in English literature were extent of his formal education on the subject. No family rosary, no holy cards, statues, or the preaching common to any Catholic parish that knows which side its bread is buttered on, and all his formal contacts with Christianity, his biblical grandparents, his occasional brushes with Protestant Sunday schools had taken place in regions firmly dedicated to decrying and ignoring anything that smacked of Rome and the Pope, with all its happy and natural relationship with the ultimate expression of the feminine side of the Almighty and his first spoken word. Thus, where the women in his life fell short of perfection, and on occasion far short, he could not fall back on a good schooling in the automatic recourse to, and refuge in, the Woman among women.
That is to say, not in the dial-up of the spiritual life that he was conscious of and could practice as a life-saving habit.
Nonetheless, as it is the common doctrine of the sensible faithful that there is no grace that does not come through the mother of God, where Jesus has struck in plain fashion, she, although utterly hidden and unheard of in the ordinary way, is part of it. So she must have been around for Toby's childhood visions, albeit unknown and unacknowledged, nor could his great affection for nature have existed without some input on her part.
And in fact there was a special signal of this sort of intervention, around the same time as the Lord had dropped into the Baptist Sunday school.
One Saturday morning Toby's father and grandfather had found they had some business at a nursery, and they took the lad with them. At a point where the adults were talking business in the green house with the owner, Toby, left outside to admire his magical surroundings, heard a bird warbling the most heartbreakingly beautiful song he had ever heard, at the top of some ornamental conifer he was standing by. The beauty of it pierced his soul most keenly, and left a fair amount of painful longing when the song was over. Never had he heard such a song, never had he seen such a tree. Not even a Christmas tree, full of lights and ornaments, with its foot surrounded by wonderfully wrapped presents, had ever seemed so lovely. Nor had it seemed to break his heart with longing for its presence after it had vanished.
He said nothing to anyone about the experience, nor would it have been within the norms of grace to do so. If no one in his family could deal with the Virgin Mary in the literal sense, they would be even less capable of doing so in the symbolic.
Later, as a full adult in the Faith, and professionally conversant with the rules of the mystics, he came fully to understand that visions, locutions, and all other manifestations of special attention from the Almighty required absolute coughing up to one's spiritual advisors. But by that time he had truly spiritual company, souls who had grown robust and frightfully clear-minded over such events. In those early days and for long after he only knew the untrained and the only partially experienced, if that, and God was quite content to shoot from the hip and then immediately bury the body so no one, not even Toby, could tell about what had happened. The Lord gave, and the Lord took away, looking cheerfully ahead to the day when all could be revealed in civilized company, not only because of the company but also because Toby's education would finally catch up with his experience.
Nothing is more peculiar to the acquisition of wisdom than the fact that the principal route toward it is so hidden. Given that Jesus is a man, one could almost be justified in giving Him three or four good smacks up the side of the head for his manner of hiding his mother away from the great unwashed. You don't think this is realistic? Well, just look at the history of one of the most useful books ever penned, Louis de Montfort's True Devotion to Mary. Anyone who knows this book well has to be horrified by the fact that Divine Providence allowed it to be buried in a bloody trunk for nearly a century-and-a-half. This only makes any kind of sense when you stop to realize that the coming of Christ was held off even longer, much longer. That's how valuable, how essential to a fully realized faith, that book is. Happy the man with the grace to read it at all, even happier those who would never let it wander from their bedside shelf.
But I digress.
The girl was, indeed, like a statue in a church. God help the fools who think He does not like images in His buildings. She was tall, blonde, long legged, and beautiful, especially to a dozen men about to say goodbye to ordinary society, wherein half the actors on the stage of their immediate world would be female.
The little cafe held only four or five tables, and bar with stools for half-a-dozen souls. The tables were empty, before the surveyors arrived to take over most of them, but the bar was all but full, not only for the sake of conversation among those who sat to it, drinking coffee or tea, but also for the convenience of the men who had come to eat their last meal in civilization.
As with his evening in the pub north of Sechelt, the westering sun shone through the windows, and Toby once again felt the magic of a place where all came together by accident, or at least seemed to. Later, again, he was to learn that there is such an enterprise along that westering road called The Moccasin Telegraph, and he would realize that the girl and her company would have known they were coming, and come down to see. Why not? She was . . . . fourteen, maybe sixteen at the oldest, and somewhere in the midst of all these lads she might have caught a glimpse of a face that would suggest her future husband. He could, of course, actually be amongst the crew, and moved by the spirits of the moment, take her hand and declare himself now. Stranger things had happened. Not that she favoured any of them with a specific glance. Iron willed, she spoke only to the older woman that was beside her, and or to the man behind the counter. But always in a low an softened tone, as Mary would have spoken to the men of her household.
The surveyors, chattering as they emptied their vehicles and stumped up the stairs, fell wonderfully silent as they entered the room and beheld what awaited them. It was a total shock. The other inhabitants, those who gained the place before them, were prepared for what was coming. They were as cool as the soft drinks in the refrigerated display unit. The road west was thinly populated, and the daily truck driver carried all the news of the weeks ahead.
The proprietor hustled forward, order pad in hand, and the surveyors got to it. But all went forward in the most subdued tone. It was as if the girl had to be included in the conversations, yet not in any obvious way. She was one of them, but she belonged to all of them, and no one had the right to single her out as his own. They talked out their day, they inquired of Mortimer and Gorman the details of the rest of the night and the next day, but always in a mood that knew she was in the room.
By the time supper arrived, Toby had an interesting thought. Was it his ego, or had he divined something particular to the relationship between musicians and the female. Had the word got out that there was a musician in the group? Had she come to lay eyes on him? Interesting, because if there was anything he had steadfastly refused to take advantage of, it was the belief, in some quarters, that musicianship granted an automatic right to special considerations. Perhaps he was imagining things, of course. What novelist was incapable of making mountains out of molehills? But there was a possibility, and therefore there was a responsibility to go with the general mood of the evening and make no special concessions. He would be simply one of the crew, and not break ranks, not sidle up to the coffee counter for a singular conversation. If she had been older, perhaps, just to be polite, given that she'd made the effort to show up. But she was too young, intellectually, unlikely to be a conversational match for the girls he had known and still knew at university, so in the present circumstances she worked best for all of them simply as an image, especially as she kept her voice down and did not shriek or giggle at the sight of so many males incapable of being unaware of her radiant presence.
Toby actually sat with his back to her, which lost him his view of the girl herself, but augmented his observation of the effect she was having on his fellows, and possibly it was his deliberately selecting the blindest seat that dictated the tone of the evening meal. None of the young men shrieked or giggled either. The room was full of a very pleasant mood. The meal went forth in a tone that would have done credit to a monastery. With another hour's drive ahead of them they did not linger, and the girl was still at the counter when they left, filing out as thoughtfully as parishioners who have just heard an usually effective sermon. No one really spoke about the girl, back on the road, and when Toby and Nikos were settled into their room in the Alexis Creek Hotel, Toby borrowed one of Nikos' books, a Penguin paperback introduction to calculus, to spend a pleasant hour with it while night fell and Nikos tried to find a seat in the hotel's taproom, very small, and jammed with local natives.


cabbage ears said...

Alexis Creek catapults all into the beyond that masks reality. Lost your site. Computer virus. eh. Catching up on your site. Not able to attend your anniversary. Have two parents who are probably on death's doorstep and going to Ontario at the time of your and Shawn's anniversary. How wonderful. affection and regards to two old and very wise friends. Irene

the kootenay ranger said...

Ah, the glitches in technology. I wondered where you were. Glad to see you back in the loop. Prayers for your parents and the trip. I suddenly recall your brother, Orest. How is he?

cabbage ears said...

Ken...Orest became my father. He has reached out to other's children but essentially is a guard against an expression of forgiveness. Say a prayer for me that I act with grace and dignity. How I wish I could toast both you and Shawn. A shining example to the fluidity of celebrating existence to its utmost. Irene