Tim brought back yesterday’s mail this morning, along with my Starbucks coffee. This is our ritual when he is with me. I write while he picks up the coffee.
Like many who are seeking to follow the medical professionals pleas, we had a quiet Thanksgiving planned. No family. Just the two of us, isolated. It is not a hard thing. While we miss the kids and long for this virus to be gone, our first priority has been to keep everyone safe. To that end, we planned a day of participating in a 5K, reading, music, writing, food. I let Tim pick the menu for the day. He wanted enchiladas, a family favorite. Easy-peasy.
I had been writing most of the morning, so it was nearly noon by the time Tim brought me coffee and by then I had a headache beginning to set in. Caffeine withdrawal. He handed me the coffee and a package that had been in the mail.
“You open it,” I said, swallowing my first gulp of coffee.
“It’s a book,” he replied. Books arrive regularly at our house. Some are for the college courses I’m taking. Some are other authors requesting blurbs. Some are books he orders. Some are books I order. This was one of the latter. The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus, by Dorothy Day, forward by D.L. Mayfield.
I’ve been a fan of Dorothy Day for a long time now, much like thousands and thousands of other people. I admire the way she navigated a life of devotion to God while pressing the political powers that oppressed the masses. She gets me in a way too few Evangelicals do. Or I guess I get her since she’s dead and doesn’t know me.
Speaking about the recent election, a girlfriend remarked: “I don’t get why the Evangelicals align themselves with Trump. Anyone who listens to him for 10 minutes should know he isn’t a Christian.”
“They do it for the simple reason of wanting to keep white men in power,” I replied. “It has nothing to do with God. It’s about keeping people of color and women out of power.”
I think Dorothy Day would see it that way, too. And she would say call it out. Dorothy Day didn’t hesitate to call out wrongdoing wherever she saw it.
She suffered for her beliefs, as many activists do. Think about the folks you admire, people out in the streets doing the hard work of social justice, doing the hard work of being the hands and feet of Christ and I challenge you to find me a single soul doing that kind of work who doesn’t also deal with bouts of depression. Day did. Mother Teresa did.
I am by nature an optimist, walk-on-the-sunny-side kind of gal. I always believe that we can literally change the world, that we can make it a better place for everyone, as long as we are willing to carry the water, and wash the feet of others. I never believe all is lost. I believe almost everything and everyone is redeemable. (I make the exception for Trump and his ilk).
Above my desk I have a framed print: “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
This belief that I can help change the world for the better is that thing which sets my soul on fire. But as the author D.L. Mayfield notes, I often feel like a “Failed Radical.” Whatever it is I am doing never feels like enough, or enough of the right thing, or even the caring thing. That’s been particularly true this year, given the limitations of a life during a global pandemic. Honestly, it seems lately that the most radical way of loving others amounts to wearing a mask and staying home. There is sacrifice in the latter, for sure. I’ve only left town twice in ten months. That’s radical for a woman who is used to jetting off to some event or another every six to eight weeks.
After Tim handed me the new book, I opened it to a random page and read the following:
“This month of Thanksgiving will indeed be one of gratitude to God. For health, for work to do, for the opportunities he has given us for service; we are deeply grateful, and it is a feeling that makes the heart swell with joy.”
Honest to Pete. Here on this Thanksgiving Day, those were the first words of Day’s I read in a book I had just randomly opened.
Talk about your God’s poetry.
The sun has set now. The sky is the hue of midnight. There is a heater warming my feet and a humidifier keeping my eyes moist as I type out these words. We’ve talked with the kids and the grands.
A few days ago, the oldest of the grands, Sullivan, 8, called me. He was chatting away but I could tell that something was up.
“Do you have something to tell me?” I asked. My first thought was maybe he had broken his arm or his leg. He and his brother are very active boys. They are always off on some adventure.
“Yes,” Sullivan said.
“Okay, I’m listening.”
He was quiet for what seemed a long time. He’s a sensitive soul who can be hesitant about saying what he thinks or feels.
“It’s okay, buddy,” I said. “Go ahead and tell me.”
He took in a breath and exhaled, “I wanted to say I am grateful for you. I like it that you buy Oreos for me when I come to visit. I like watching Gumby movies with you.” Sullivan named a few more things he likes about spending time with me.
Before the pandemic, I made it a goal to see Sullivan and his brother every six to eight weeks. This year, we haven’t been to Wenatchee even once. That’s been difficult. When you are only 8, a whole year without seeing your granny is an eighth of your life. That seems like forever.
I got Sullivan and his brother hooked on Gumby movies during one of my many prior visits. It’s the thing we’d do in the mornings. The boys would sneak into my room, snuggle and watch Gumby movies on my laptop with me. I am the only person they watch Gumby with. It’s a thing Brother John and I used to do in the early mornings when we were kids, watch Gumby together.
It’s easy to think of love as requiring some big radical action on our behalf. Growing up I heard umpteen stories of people who would sell everything they had to go live in a dirt shack in some jungle or desert somewhere to bring the love of Christ to others. As an adult, I’ve most often witnessed a different sort of act.
The actions of a steadfast love.
The kind of love Sullivan feels when he thinks of his granny. There hasn’t been a moment in his life where Sullivan has questioned if I love him or not. He knows I do. He knows it by the simple things I do: Buy the Oreos. Take him on bike rides. Roast marshmallows with him. Watching Gumby with him. God loves each of us like that, the way the best Granny does.
These aren’t dramatic things. They aren’t even radical things. They are just the actions of a steadfast love.
It’s that sort of love, that sustainable love, that Day spoke of when she penned these words about living a life of faith in Christ: “Our arms are linked – we try to be neighbors of his, and to speak up for his principles. That’s a lifetime job.”
Indeed it is the work of a life lived well.
So I end this, grateful as Dorothy Day, for my family’s health, for the work we each have to do, and for the opportunities we all have for to show others the steadfast love of God.
Be well, friends. Love well.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Christian Bend: A novel (Mercer Univ. Press).