My novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, has left home for a few weeks. I finished up the first draft and sent it out into the great wide world to see how it would fare. But I miss the characters. Zachary left his music and poetry with me, so I have that. I go to Anna’s exercise class on a regular basis and often think of her. Jessica introduced me to the history of Berkeley, coloring my weekly visit to my Berkeley office. And Father Nate left me his old prayer book to thumb through.
The Fire Trail first flew away to my local editor. Another copy has nested with the Sisters of the Presentation in San Francisco, and a third manuscript found a home with my bishop who understands people and thus character. Later, when the manuscripts come home, I shall incorporate their suggestions and shall send it out once again, a final draft, to visit proofreaders familiar with Berkeley and the University of California.
It is a miraculous thing, how a story can grow like a living creature.
I read recently that our brains are always changing, constantly being remolded by experience and use. Tissue is repaired, damaged cells healed. I marveled at this vision of life itself, the changing nature of our cells, our bodies, our minds, as we age and interact with our world. Nothing stays the same. We are ever-moving, ever-growing, ever-dying, amorphous.
And so I considered the power of choice, of free will, of my own ability to govern that moving, growing, and dying so that instead of drunkenly swerving down the road of life, my span of time might take on a certain shape, might follow a rational, reasonable course. As I pass each crossroads, I must choose. I can stop, turn around, and go back. I can turn; I can go forward, crossing the road. I can repent; I can deny there is a choice. I must choose, again and again, for there are many, many crossroads.
But all of these choices are informed by knowledge. I must know where I am going, and perhaps more importantly, where I have come from. The ability to choose wisely assumes also that I live in a culture of freedom, either in the West or in a place imbued with Western ideals of freedom and democracy. Choosing the right road assumes I was raised to choose and cherish liberty and justice. It assumes I have been taught self-control and responsibility, the pillars of freedom. It assumes I have been taught the history of Western culture, from Abraham to Greece to Europe to America and the West’s many flowerings worldwide.
I was fortunate to receive my public school education in the fifties and early sixties, just in time. I don’t recall feeling unsafe. There were no bullies or knives or guns. Teachers were allowed to discipline, for self-esteem was achieved through hard work. America-bashing was not yet fashionable, but would be soon. The flag flew high and proud. It was neither worn as clothing, nor burned in hatred. I was taught symbols matter, language matters, and all lives matter, not just some. Our political leaders spoke of America as precious and exceptional, necessary to world peace. I was also blessed with growing up in the beating heart of the Church, so that where I came from and where I was going was clear and comforting and inspiring, all three. I strayed for a time, but, to paraphrase Waugh and Chesterton, God pulled me back with a “twitch upon the thread” and help from C. S. Lewis. The twitch would have been more difficult without the thread already in place. It appeared God had pulled Lewis back in a similar way.
And so as I witness the foundations of Western culture crumble, that is, the education of the next generation through social ideals as well as classroom texts, I take some comfort in my little novel of ideals and text, The Fire Trail. I pray that I make the right choices in the next few months with regard to the novel’s sculpting and firing, so that the pages glow like amber embers. My attempt may be too little too late, but I’m glad, as I traveled my my own trail, that I chose to write these words, to breathe life into Jessica and Zachary, Anna and Nate, so that they could turn their own pages, make their own choices as they journey on the trail through my woods of words, my forest of phrases.