My family regularly attends children’s storytime at the Nashville Public Library where Library Pete, The Professor, and Mary Mary regale attendees with stories, rainbow drawings, singing, and the continuing puppet adventures of Cedric the Dragon, Spanish Fox, JJ the Lamb, and Tommy Dog. Beyond all the puppeteering aimed at the kids, though, the proceedings are layered with witty banter intended for the parents as well. I like this.
At one point, the Professor juggles colorful rings while singing a song and Ellis, our oldest boy, immediately took to this. He returned home to find a frisbee-like juggling ring of his own and promptly informed us that he was the “perfeshor”, complete with the final act of placing the ring on his head all crown-like. Once we picked up on what he was doing and saying (he still spoke Babel-like at the time), we were astonished at what a one-and-a-half year old was able to comprehend and retain.
Since I’m anxious to relate to — and impress — my son, my wife gave me a juggling set for Christmas, complete with a how-to guide, colorful practice handkerchiefs, and three beanbags. I took up the challenge and quickly advanced to a daily regimen of juggling (by which I mean repeatedly dropping) beanbags. With a few minutes of practice each morning, I slowly got the hang of it. At the very least, I can keep the three balls moving through the air in something resembling a circle, if only for a few seconds at a time (a veritable eon, in the hands of a novice). The best part is that Ellis excitedly joins me by throwing around the “han-ker-chips”, as he calls them, in playful mimicry. This, I truly enjoy.
The same monotonous repetition required to learn a new skill is currently swamping my life. My ever-present acedia wants nothing to do with the “rinse, clean, repeat” cycle of being an exhausted and exasperated father of two very young children. You parents will, no doubt, understand these mundane rigors. I become apathy at its personified best — or worst.
I wake in the early morning and glance in the mirror at the bags under my reddened eyes and realize, with grudging acceptance, that this day will likely be as utterly predictable as the one before. It will be no less riddled with repetition than either yesterday was or tomorrow is likely to be. It is a drug of drudgery that hardly elicits an “hurrah” from the shambles of my spirit. Wake me up when today is over, I grumble. And so it goes with acedia, that devil-god laying claim to my shoulder, neighbor to the self-righteous chip.
Repetition surrounds me the way a rolled-up rug encases a poor soul run afoul of the mafia. Though I wiggle, squirm and fight, I cannot escape. I imagine there is an abundance of beauty and living art in our daily monotony, as Kathleen Norris observes in her insightful book, Acedia & Me, but I have yet to discover anything abundant in it save frustration, or anything lively save my own resistance.
Practice and repetition are neither glorifying nor pleasurable, just ask any athlete. But perhaps the glory is never meant for the individual doing the repeating. Like juggling, it holds less enjoyment than frustration for me, the practitioner, but its greater fame is that of bringing something pleasant to the beholder, to those who witness the feat. In the case of my learning to juggle, my son invariably grins and seeks to mimic the act with the aforementioned handkerchiefs. Glory be, we learn together.
I find myself, perhaps foolishly, selfishly and naively, wishing the current days away as if they were curses instead of blessings. Longing for what I don’t have is classic covetousness. It is a blanket of ingratitude that is all too human in its near-sightedness. As my pastor has been hammering into my head the past few weeks, we revel in the unseen promise of tomorrow at the cost of today’s grace and beauty, we give testimony to the revelation of things to come, and curse our proclivities for mistrust and false identities which have become “normal” or “everyday” in our hearts.
In the ordinary, monotonous, and acedia-ravaged days to come I hope to pray a more perfect prayer. May repetition be the means through which God, in his ironic clearinghouse style, continually unveils our daily need of Him. May Self surrender to that ever-unchanging will. May rote rehearsal reveal glory in the gift of every new day. And may my beloved son see grace in the hands of a fumbling juggler.
Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.