We are spending a few days on the Kohala Coast on Hawaii’s “Big Island,” Hawaii. The slow pace, the humidity, the balmy breezes, make us pause and look about for a time and enter another world of greens and blues and orange blossoms shooting from giant leaves.
Everything seems larger – the tree trunks, the tall palms, the umbrella fronds shading the pathways. The lawn outside our room stretches forever to meet the sea, a long strip of azure painted across the middle of the canvas. Above the infinite horizon, a giant dome of sky, today slightly hazy, covers our world. We are in a verdant garden and birds chirp their own language, chattering, cawing. The sea rushes in and out rhythmically to the beat of my heart, a gentle shshsh-ing sound, soothing.
I have grown small amidst this glory. My weakness slips and slides through my meandering, sleepy thoughts.
Yet I did plot a new novel yesterday, and now I play with the characters in my brain, drawing on folks I know and images that have struck me recently. The real writing, the phrasing and word choice and delicious arrangement of paragraphs, won’t come for a time. First I must slog through the hard work of structure, theme, and over-arching symbols. I must read and read and read, filling my mind and heart with words.
I just finished Vladimir Lossky’s Seven Days on the Roads of France, a remarkable book, recently released by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press and translated from the French by Michael Donley. It is a journal of a week in June 1940, when the great Orthodox theologian leaves Paris to enlist, as the Germans draw near the capitol. He journeys on foot, knapsack and blanket over his shoulders, moving further and further south as French towns evacuate before him. Finally, he simply joins his family in the south, for France has surrendered. Marshall Petain has formed a new government under Nazi authority. In these seven days Vlossky trudges the roads with other evacuees, sleeping in barns, getting rides perched on running boards or in the back of trucks. Planes strafe, bombs explode in towns and fields, babies calmed by terrified mothers. Storms thunder; the sun scorches. They are a fleeing people exposed to the elements, leaving their homes, seeking safety. The account is a unique window into a time in history, a time when the innocent were chased by evil.
And here in this tropical paradise all seems innocent. A feral cat comes to my door, begging. He has a little bobbed tail, so the staff call him Bobby. His coat is gray and his eyes green and he wails sadly, expectantly. He works the ground floor rooms, I am told, and I have become one of his mothers. I smuggle smoked salmon and milk from breakfast. He devours his plate and pads into the shade of the bushes to wash and sleep. He is innocent, but will scratch me to get attention, for food. I am wary.
We are in a garden, but a fallen garden, a place where the hunter is hunted, where survival is a challenge, violence hidden in the jungle. The tides are strong and treacherous, the sun deadly. Not so innocent.
My work-in-progress is about innocence, its loss, its vulnerability, its need for protection by the strong. As a culture we seem to be losing those protections, the desire to protect the weak, particularly the young and the old. We are becoming coarse, disrespectful, hard and hardened. We must support those institutions of law and liberty, faith and family, that shore up these protections of civil society. That teach the Ten Commandments. That teach respect for one another and love of God’s law. That teach us how to love.
We must weed the garden and tame the jungle inside each one of us.