Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Night and Honeysuckle

While my class is taking their final I thought I’d go ahead and bang out an essay of my own. I had originally meant this topic as class discussion, but various scheduling collisions prevented our getting around to it. It’s a pity too because I thought Chesterton’s “End of the World” would be an interesting counterpoint to the usual character and leadership type discussions. Briefly, Chesterton’s essay is about his travels to a little French village in the mountains called Le Bout Du Monde and his discovery that the world does not all end in the same place. If that doesn’t make sense then consider where you are most your own - where all your art and understanding and being come together in one expression. That is the world’s end. For Chesterton’s Frenchman the world ends at sunset in one still quiet village set amid the cacophonous medley of plunging chasms and endless peaks. Chesterton said, “If the story of the world ended here it ended well. Then I wondered if I myself should really be content to end here, where most certainly there were the best things of Christendom -- a church and children’s games and decent soil and a tavern for men to talk with men.” To Chesterton’s own surprise he realizes that his world doesn’t end here. He wants an English cabman in an English city and an English policeman to wave them through. I can’t do justice to Chesterton’s imaginative love for his chosen home, but to hear him talk even the grime of London is only the patina on an old platter or the vines masking a stately country home. It’s the end of the world for him. It’s where all his livelihood and desires converge.

If you can’t see where this would make a good class discussion for a class on “Character and Servant Leadership” then let me explain. Chesterton had it impressed upon him suddenly and deeply how good it was to be in certain place and was then equally impressed with the necessity of the far better good of being himself in another place. The good that was indeed good was not the good for which he wept on his journey back down the mountain. This is a rare quality I think. He saw something that was good and that really should be preserved by the people who love it, but he was also able to see that there’s something out there uniquely his to preserve and love. I wanted to challenge the class to think about what they love and want to see carried out in the world to think about how they wanted to do it -- all the while acknowledging and understanding how other people are likewise fighting for their corner of Christendom. I think that’s one of the rare qualities displayed in Chesterton’s essay. He’s not trying to convince his French friend that England is better. He in fact admits quite the opposite - it’s precisely because the Frenchman’s world is better for the French that the English world is better for him. They’re complementary visions not competing. We need people who love cities and deserts and plains and mountains and oceans and caves and interstellar travel because if I were to have charge of a desert I’d make a huge muck of it. It’s a glorious adventure for a week or three days, but it’s not my world. I wanted my students to see that they have the chance to grab onto a chunk of the world and make it theirs - to love it through glory and grime and, maybe just once, to weep when they cannot be near it.

So where does the world end for me? I will confess that I love many things and cannot be as rooted as Chesterton and his desire for Wallham Green, and of all the things I have ever seen one of the best is a summer's evening in Alabama. It doesn’t matter much what one is doing then - chasing fireflies, drinking tea, or riding the 4-wheeler out to watch the sunset behind the hayfields. It’s just good to be outside in the warm, damp air smelling cut grass and honeysuckle and listening to the frogs and crickets chanting. The ac fan cuts in and after a while everyone goes inside to eat pizza and watch a Marx Brothers movie. You scratch an itch and are grateful the mosquitoes are outside and not in. No matter how many other sunsets I may see this is where my world ends. It's home and always has been.

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