I’m on the last chapter in the novel ‘Mr Bridge’ by Evan S. Connell, and I really don’t want to finish it. I know (because the game was given away in ‘Mrs Bridge’, the earlier book) that he will die soon. There are just a few pages to go and I could have gobbled them up last night, but I saved them, like a choice morsel on the side of the plate, to be savoured and thought about and lingered over… but tonight I’ll have to read the last page and say goodbye to Mr Bridge. What a great character Connell, wrote! Here was a man who tried so hard to do no harm in life that he did very little good, was so circumspect and careful that he never discovered anything new, who believed most of all in the value of respectability never considering that there might be truer values to live by, never changed his mind or learned, never explored beyond the received wisdom of his childhood, never risked or hoped, instead he carefully and painstakingly planned. He had pride in his plans. A man with a strictly controlled life. But he was a kindly, careful and diligent man too, full of unspoken and unconfessed love, as if love was a dangerous thing, not to be trusted. He was a small-town successful man unwilling to recognise his limitations and his prejudices except in very rare moments of insight, and these he turned away from, afraid to explore them, to find out new truths about himself and the world. The whole novel lays out, in simple and often beautiful language, an unexamined life. His tragedy is not the life that he leads, which is like many millions of lives – home and family and work – but in his fear of looking beyond that life, to deeper.
Looking beyond the visible towards the invisible, or even looking beyond our consciousness towards our deepest selfish selves, there’s a cost to that. A helluva cost. And if we’re unwilling to pay that cost, like Mr Bridge, we’ll never understand more than that the earth is round, the sky is high and we all one day will die.
Oops, that rhymed. I keep doing that. Sorry. Makes me sound like a teacher in an infant’s class.
But what a waste it would be to squander a whole lifetime and never learn more than that the world is round, the sky is high and one day I will pop my clogs.
Some days, no – not days, some moments seem to come to us unbidden, outside of ourselves and well beyond our own reasoning. They can be a bit shattering and wonderful all at the same time. These moments are gifts from God. His grace. We can’t summons them, or create them, or determine that if we wait long enough they will come. They overflow from God, simply his. And if we embrace them, even when they reveal how small we are and how powerful God is, even when they shine a light on those dark parts of ourselves we’d rather not see, then… then… we begin to understand life. We get a tiny fleeting shadow of a glimpse of how great a gift it is to be alive, and of our place in eternity, and of the the greatness and the ineffable goodness and love of God. And that’s just bloody brilliant.
Where am I going with all this? I’m getting there. Hold on. There is a cost to submitting to God. And our only part in the whole truth of Christianity, is our willingness to pay that cost. There are moments on the beach…
… there are moments when we sit with a dying friend, and moments when stand on a summit and see the world spread out below us, all sorts of moments when the joy of life and the miracle of humanity just hit us. POW! When we become aware that God is real and present. In all sorts of places at all sorts of times. But we can’t create them. They are gifts. And we can – like the fictional Mr Bridge – choose to turn away from them, we can choose to live the unexamined life because sometimes it’s unsettling and daunting to stand under a huge billowing sky recognising how small we are, how fleeting our lives… ‘life’s little day’. When we recognise the absolute purity and love of God we can’t help but recognise our own selfishness, and narrowness, our lack of purity and love. and that blinkin’ well hurts, big time. But we can either turn towards God in those uncomfortable moments, or turn from him. Like Mr Bridge, we can choose to deliberately ‘not think’ about who we are, and why we are, and what it’s all about.
Several times, in the novel, Mr Bridge begins to see the very edges of truth. He sits at the window on a dark and stormy night as leaves slap against the pane, and feels despair. But he doesn’t explore the moment, instead he turns away, goes to bed, seeks unconsciousness.
I’m not one for huge mood swings, from elation to despair, and usually I chug along, sort of half way between the two, but there are sometimes (not everso often!) moments of deep joy, glimpses of the eternal truth, of the nature of God, of completeness. I had a conversation yesterday with a scientist, and we were both marvelling at the technology we take for granted, from emails to Zoom to ‘intelligent ‘ machines and there on the beach it suddenly struck me….
and I know it’s not an original thought, but here goes: the greatest miracle and technological triumph is mankind ourselves. That two people can stand under the dome of the sky, two beating hearts in many millions, on a world that is one of millions, in a universe that may well be one of millions… and that we don’t just see what is around us, the sea and the hills and the birds, but we can imagine and reach out, and remember, and be aware of others half a world away, that we can look beyond the visible to what used to be visible and ahead to what will never be visible… that we can search for the unknowable and yet be content with the little we now understand…. and that all this is the gift of God and not from man…. POW! again, POW! A moment.
Billions of people, over millions of years. All those thoughts and experiences and beliefs. And one God. Why? Why do we exist? Here is the miracle, here is the truth I can’t turn away from, no matter how uncomfortable it is sometimes (I am a grubby little soul deep down); God made me in the image of God. In his image! Me! I mean, come on – me! You know… me! And daily, as I fall short, he loves me anyway. He loves me because he is love. Is that why he made me? Because he loves me? Wowser. Flip me. Bloomin’ ‘eck. And all that.
The scientist and me.. that was yesterday and a gift from God.
Today, walking along the beach with my three little hairy hounds, the sky was full of tumbling clouds, and the wind was brisk, the air fresh, like a long cool drink of water….
and my neighbour came along, jogging past the dunes, their grasses shimmering in the sunshine, and he held his arms wide. He’s a tall man, a broad man, bearded and cheerful, and he said “Give me a hug” and we hugged. Sod Covid, we hugged. It was a great hug. A bloody marvellous hug. Human contact. Love. I miss male hugs. I do. Men weren’t made to be single and neither were women. Men hug differently from women and this hug was a proper hug. Fabulous.
And that was a God moment. It was! No great thoughts, just a hug. Maybe God knew I needed exactly that, exactly then.
Yesterday and today. Tiny fleeting precious glimpses of the love of God. How spoilt am I?
Poor Mr Bridge, and everyone like him.