I feel an unrequited kinship with many of my favorite authors, including Ms. O’Connor, whom I quote in the title of this post. Flannery O’Connor is famous for writing weird, unsettling, mysterious short stories. I think I am drawn to her because I find myself the happy, if bewildered, regular recipient of bizarre circumstances. If God orchestrates our lives to His delight, and if our lives are, at least at times, weird, then God must delight in the strange. I like to think this is God mercifully reminding us of His presence, even in the tiniest things. If God has gestures or facial expressions, this is when He winks.
Long Dog Doppelganger
The first time I ever begged Ben for anything was when I lost my heart to a long-haired dachshund. I was in PetSmart with my mom and saw the most darling dog in a crate waiting to be adopted. I wilted, talked nonstop about the dog for 24 hours, convinced Ben to go with me to visit him and then acted as though we had already decided to get the dog in hopes that he would go along with it. Mission accomplished. We went to the rescue house to “just to see the dog” and left with our first pet. I remember exclaiming that very phrase all of the way home.
Unlike naming our offspring, naming our dog wasn’t a problem. Our first dog’s name had been decided on long before we got married. (I am only just now realizing how odd it is to choose your dog’s name but not your child’s. We are strange folk.) Anyway, we had already planned to buy a dog, name it Chester, and teach it to wear a monocle and top hat so it could pass for a kind of butler. Classy, right? These were the dreams of our childless selves. Even though the dog came to us already named Ronnie Brown, we decided to stick to the plan and call him Chester. He responded beautifully.
And then, weird things happened.
I was casually chatting with my seventh grade students a few days later and mentioned our recent adoption of a long-haired dachshund named Chester. A kid quickly perked up, asking several details about our dog. It turns out around the same time we adopted Chester, this kid’s family adopted a dog too. What kind of dog? A long-haired dachshund. What did they name him? Chester.
You guys, they could be identical twins. I still see Chester of the Other Family on occasion, and the resemblance is uncanny. Someone could switch our dogs and I really don’t think I’d notice, especially since they RESPOND TO THE SAME NAME.
This happened years ago, and I still find it to be convincing evidence that there must be a God who loves to perplex.
When I was a child, a misleading episode of Punky Brewster caused me to conclude that child stars were often discovered in grocery stores, absentmindedly advertising their indomitable talents by singing to themselves and exuding cuteness. I was so inspired by this idea that I began devising a plan to be so discovered. Fortunately or unfortunately, my mother had recently permed my hair, so I had a passable resemblance to Annie. Each week, when we visited the grocery store, I lingered a several feet behind my mother and quietly sang “Tomorrow” toward fellow shoppers, occasionally throwing in a jazz square or winsome smile. I tried not to make eye contact, as the whole charm of this plan was the spontaneous revelation of a rising star, but I was so excited I did sometimes catch the bewildered look of a supermarket customer.
I was never discovered. (Well, I take that back. I was in a Psalty video advertisement once, but it wasn’t a speaking role, so it doesn’t count. But that’s another story.) And my dream of being Annie died with my baby teeth and wilted curls.
Or so I thought. Because I have managed to resurrect my dreams of dancing orphans. Several years ago, I found myself in charge of a group of middle school students who were so desperate to act, they would let me direct them almost anywhere. So I directed them toward Annie. It was the only logical choice. And boy, was that ever fun. I’ve had no musical training whatsoever in my life, but I just kind of made it up as I went along, we we grapevined our way to a phenomenal show. I’m serious. It was self-indulgent AND glorious.
Happy ending, right? Wrong. Because I’m doing it again. New group of middle schoolers. A few old cast members who are now old enough to convincingly play adults. Shorter number of rehearsals, bigger expectations.
We had our first real rehearsal last week. I played one of the songs with the voice track so that the kids could heard the words, then turned off the accompaniment, handed them their music, switched to a soundtrack, and told them go for it. One girl timidly asked, “Um, do you think we could sing it with the words once or twice before we try it without the voice track?” Whoops. Sometimes I forget that not everyone has had this show memorized for the past 23 years.
I am so eager to get into the thick of this production. It really is going to be fantastic. I am also inclined to think that this is a show that will follow me for the rest of my life. After all, I do have a pint-sized redhead that joins me for rehearsals each week.
Speaking of the redhead…
The Syntactic Enactment of Glitter
When I was pregnant, Ben and I had a horrible time choosing a name for the baby. It was my first full-fledged parenting crisis. I didn’t want to choose something cutesy, trendy, common or without significance. And that was a tall order, one that took a long time to fill. In the interim, we dubbed the baby Disco (another long story) until we found out the gender, at which time Disco morphed into the more feminine Glitter. There are still people who call the baby by her sparkly pseudonym, bearing testament to how pervasive such nicknames are.
Anyway, my point is this: For the entire duration of her young life, glitter has been attracted to my child. I cannot explain this. There is no glitter in our home. (Crafts are not my gift.) This spontaneous burst of sparkle made sense during Christmas, as ornaments have a tendency to share their shimmer, but past Christmas? I have no idea how or why. I slide a headband on her round little head and bright flecks of gold gently fall to the ground. It was funny at first, then kind of sweet, and now it’s just uncanny.
The Sehnsucht Paroxysm
I love all things glorious and artful, as I’ve discussed before. I love beautiful poetry. I love magnificent songs. I love books that grab readers and will not let go. I love, I love, I love musicals. And I am liable to respond to moments of artistic splendor by crying and yanking my hair. It is a weird habit.
But it is voluntary.
To review, voluntary responses are ones that a person can control. Raised hands, standing up, and blinking are all voluntary responses. Involuntary responses are not controlled by a person. Heartbeats are involuntary. Circulation is involuntary. Growth is involuntary. It just happens.
So when I encounter great art, I pull my own hair. Voluntarily. But when I encounter really, really good art, the kind that I am sheerly overwhelmed by…
… my foot cramps.
I know, I know-this is weird. And it’s a really specific pain, too. It’s almost always my left foot, and it’s the tendon or ligament that runs right along the arch of my heel. I read Hamlet and I feel it twitching, then I move to Eliot and BAM! I am temporarily unable to walk. I have been reduced to standing like a flamingo during my classes because I am so happy, and so crippled, by what we’ve read.
And these are only a few of the bizarre circumstances in which I find myself. I could talk at length about the complexities of my friendship with my boss, or the rare circumstances under which I met my husband, or the way I once twisted my ankle during a Miss Alabama pageant and had to be carried down several flights of stairs by a man with cigarette breath who called me Daffodil. But enough about me-does God ever wink at you? Explain. Tell me I’m not alone.