Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau "Wenn dein Mütterlein..." Kindertotenlieder
The thought of returning to the parish that I left with no small amount of bitterness back in April causes me some intense degree of anxiety, and I have had occasion to experience this now, because I have in a most confounding way been invited back. Last week I had lunch with Father ----, and, at the end of the meal, after a variegated enough conversation that included some further conversation about life's sorrows (I have confided in him before and more than I have to anyone else, and I confided in him further last week), he rather comically asked, "So, you want to teach Sunday School?" Prior to my departure from the parish I had in fact been offered the job and accepted it. It had also, however, been understood that, upon my unhappy resignation from the Parish Council and departure from the parish altogether, I had also left the Sunday School offer behind. Now, of course, it's not like I could very well teach Sunday School without attending the services with the students, and there you have it.
Classes begin in less than five days. I told Fr. ---- that the idea of teaching appealed to my ego, my interests, and my abilities, and I also told him that it left me conflicted. He told me to think about it, and then that night, as he later mentioned to me in an email, he told the Parish Council about the conversation. One of the academic directors at the parish "texted" me that evening with a degree of enthusiasm and certainty about my joining the staff and also the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival Committee (for a Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan speaking contest) that left me further troubled. I now have an open email in my "Drafts" folder for Fr. ----. I cannot figure out what to say. This is a all a bit much.
Last November I plunged into a profound episode of despair, and there was no one. It was known that something was wrong. A couple of persons knew explicitly what my troubles were, and everyone else could see that my attendance at services became suddenly rather irregular. No one did anything. Not even those who knew the details.
At the end of January my house caught on fire. Again: no one. There were a couple of prospective offers to have me over here or there for a meal. The offers were quickly forgotten or in any case set aside by their offerers. This one particularly illustrative story that I am about to tell I have wished to put here for some time, but I chose to be cautious, and the reasons for my prior caution (and the idiocy of my current foolhardiness, no doubt) should become plain. The morning after the fire, I called the Vice President of the Parish Council and asked him to tell the rest of the Council about the fire. He did not. He informed the President, and the President informed the priest. That was it. Father called me the night after the fire. The President did not. About a week-and-a-half after the fire, we had a Parish Council meeting. Not one word about the fact that one of the Members of Council had just been put out of his home by a fire. It would turn out months later that there were still many who had not heard about it—and then there was the fine chap who bumped into me a week after I had told him and, several minutes into our conversation and after I made some reference to it, said, "Oh, yeah, I forgot you'd had a fire." Anywho, a month after the fire, the President of the Council, who, although I had seen him plenty in that month, had not said a thing to me about my circumstances, emailed me to offer me his help. He even offered me a place to stay. Dear reader, do you ask within yourself the very question that I angrily exclaimed within myself at reading that email? What did he think I had been doing for the last month? sleeping in my burned out home? living on the street? His offer of help of whatever kind might have been useful, and it might have come across as decent or sincere, if it had been made some reasonable time less than one month after I had almost burned my [deleted expletive] house down.
As I will from time to time say to folk when I am talking about my profession, the thing I love the most about being a lawyer is also the thing that takes up by far the least of my lawyering time and effort: speaking in open court. Delivering a plea for leniency at a sentencing hearing, making an argument to a jury, even just saying, "Not guilty, Your Honor": I enjoy public speaking, and I'm good at it. I was in that St. John Chrysostom competition when I was a boy, and I didn't do half bad. I have taught classes as a guest lecturer, and it was a pleasure. Being asked to return to my former parish, however, even with teaching thrown into the bargain, strikes me as very much like asking a man whose wife has committed adultery, not only to forgive her, but to hang out with her regularly. Now, I don't expect any parish to be perfect, and perhaps I would have experienced just as much callousness at this or that other parish, but that misses the point entirely: it happened at this parish. Father ---- actually did ask me a couple of months ago to forgive him for having left me in the lurch, and I easily accepted it. That does not, however, change how chewed up inside I feel about returning to the parish.
I don't really know the kids who will be in the Sunday School class anyway. I know some of their parents. Why, I've even known one of the mothers for over twenty-five years, since before she was married to the girl's father, back when she was friends with my cousin -----, who was visiting America from Greece. Well, I've known her for over twenty-five years, but I barely know her. When I saw her for the first time since childhood, oh, about ten years ago, I couldn't even remember her name. She was my cousin's friend, not mine. Come to think of it, I haven't seen Cousin ----- in ten or eleven years. She's the daughter of my godmother and aunt -----. Aunt ----- is my late mother's only surviving sibling. Haven't talked to her in a good long while either.
Before the debacle that took place last year, I was rather accustomed to my fairly solitary way of life. I didn't expect a blessed thing from anyone. I'll not pretend that my life was a joy of solitude. It was not. It also, however, was not an overwhelming misery. Something happened last year that changed all that. Prior to late last year, being ignored by those who falsely professed love or fellowship was par for the course, and I managed it easily. Now it is still, of course, par for the course, but managing such ignominy in the aftermath of trauma (both the major trauma of last year and the minor trauma of the fire—and, yes, the fire is easily and by a vast difference the lesser of the two) is … not easy.
Thursday evening is the first concert of the Cleveland Orchestra's Severance Hall season. Beethoven and Mahler. The seat beside me will be empty. I've done no justice here to how last year's events transformed my experience of solitude, but that is deliberate: I've chosen to withhold in expectation of finding a way to talk about it that is not (unlike this here essay) entirely self-absorbed. I'm getting there. There is still, after all, that unfinished essay I've mentioned a few times. I might finish it one of these days. Until then, this sorrow is unexplained to you. But take heart. Those who do know the explanation don't care about it anyway. That is to say, dear reader, you're probably not being deprived of anything you should ever regret having been deprived of in the first place.