Resuming life after college feels so much different than before. I spent most of my school days waiting for free time- often only available in forty minute bites. I yearned for the calm days when my time wouldn’t be so severely overcommitted. Occupations for idle moments were always simple to find in the summer. When the river murmurs gently along the bike trail, the weeds threaten to ambush the perennials, and the air smells of sweet must grass it isn’t hard to lose hours at a time. Now I have to glance around for things to do, especially since the younger children haven’t been around to play. California is a long way off.
(Wistful picture of summer in the garden with Claire)
Books have been the most difficult of my old occupations to rekindle. Hours of mandatory textbook reading seemingly used up the focusing abilities that I was known for at school.
Audiobooks have been the solution to this dilemma, as I find I have plenty of time to listen to stories while organizing or cooking. The reader’s voice breaks the stillness of apartment living, and is a good way to wind down in the evening. Car drives are much more peaceful with a narrators voice playing rather than mindlessly absorbing overplayed songs, fatiguing commercials, and the disturbing news pouring in from the radio world. It also helps facilitate other activities-if my hands aren’t holding the book, they are free to knit or sketch.
The first book I listened to was Tolkein’s Tales from the Perilous Realm, experimenting with the short story length as before committing to other books. Tolkein’s masterful works are like old friendship that become richer and deeper with each visit. I read the collection about two years ago, but this time I saw much more of the different layers Tolkien had woven into the text. Tolkien did not like to write obviously allegorical works, such as is found in his friend C. S. Lewis’ classic Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but rather gently colors his writings with his love of the Catholic faith.
There are several stories in the collection, but Leaf by Niggle was my favorite. The first time I read the tale it perplexed me with the symbolism blended into the simple storyline. Now several years older, I empathize with the well intentioned but distracted artist. His heart yearns for a great accomplishment in his life-his beloved painting. This dream is contrasted with the reality that is neither spectacular nor tragic. Real Life just gets in the way, and he never is able to finish. His distractions from his goal are not his main mission, but most are kindnesses he finds himself doing for others, though not always willingly.
The painting, his life’s mission, is never finished. All too soon he is called to go on his Journey, representing the end of his life. His life’s works must then be judged, but he has not used it for anything meaningful. An unfavorable judgment seems imminent. One of his jurors, however, finds significance in the kinds he showed to others and the details and love he put into his one tiny portion of the painting, the leaves on his painted tree. The story showcases the redeeming nature of love of art and beauty, and the gentle sanctity found through service of one’s neighbor,