REDEMPTION OVER AND OVER AGAIN?
I read the novel Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry and I decided to become a barber. This was a romantic notion based on the novel’s main character whose name is also the title of the book. Although fictional, Jayber Crow the man a deserved a certain recognition via Jayber Crow the book because his life was a real life; one complete and fully realized in relation to the place of which he was a part. “My relation to that place, my being in it and my absences from it, is the story of my life,” he says.
Too often we consider our lives not a series of progressions but rather departures. For me, becoming a barber was in response to a career as a radio DJ failing before it began. And leaving my career as a barber only six months in was reconciliation that blue-collar work is commendable and requires a certain skill set I did not possess. My imagined life as a barber was in some contrast to the reality of being a barber.
However, these career attempts have all been in pursuit of something tangibly real. They have been an effort, rather conscious or not, to join a community and with that the dependency upon and interactions with other people. It is why Jayber Crow’s life was so romantically appealing. As a barber he quite literally was in contact with the people of his community as he groomed a more presentable individual. I am not one for physical interaction however and this is partially the reason I quickly exited my career as a barber. I had somehow in the years spent training been able to let go of this slight disdain in pursuit of my idealized life. But once outside of a school setting (a mere pseudonym of real life… a bubble in which students feel safe) I was brought back to the reality of dirty hair and real life interactions.
These times in our lives in which we are pursuing that which we will quickly abandon, or those efforts seen as no more than a means to an end, are often unfairly demonized. My barbering days I distance myself from and sometimes consider it at best a lesson learned and time that perhaps I could have spent better had I been more focused earlier in my life. This however is an unfair discredit to time. As though time is linear and once spent is gone. And so the jobs that we occupy are often only to earn extra money to pay off a large debt, or to put food on the table, or this or that. They are jobs that one day we will be able to move on from and they are certainly not our identity. One day hopefully, it will all be over and then we can really get on with our lives. But in fact those pursuits and that time spent are part of our identity. And our attempt to relinquish this aspect of who we are is because we believe that we must always be a presentable self. That like a new haircut, to be well presented is to be truest.
In Berry’s essay, Life is a Miracle he writes, “if we could faithfully commit ourselves to the principle that nothing whatever can safely be said to lie outside the context of our work, then artists and scientists would have to be ready at any time to see that they have been wrong and to start again, making larger the context of the work. That is true freedom. It means simply that beyond all error we can begin again; redemption is possible.” The idea of redemption is perhaps a little unsettling. It does have a certain connotation that ties it to religion. And religion for many has nothing to do with freedom. But according to the Christian liturgical calendar we are in the Easter season. Last Sunday Christians observed the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the importance of this event is that in short it is a second chance and that Christ was resurrected for humanity’s redemption. But really according to Christian understanding it is more like a fourth chance. Read the history of the world according to Christian scripture and this idea of redemption is spread throughout from the very first account of existence. Perhaps what is wrong with religion is that we have made it, much like our lives, goal oriented, organized and contained instead of a bit wilder and freer… a forest instead of a container garden. This is not my defense however of organized religion. It is my defense of the idea that to live is to begin again, every time in relation to the place in which we occupy. My defense is of community.
A few years ago, I travelled for the first time to Redwood National Park. I learned that Redwoods typically do not die of old age. Instead they collapse from their own weight, their shallow root system unable to carry such a heavy load. We could easily create a metaphor of our own existence from this. That we too, from the heavy burden of being an individual amongst many other individuals are too laden by life and we fall. And granted, the weight of living can at times be a bit much. But that is not I think a good metaphor because that isn’t the end of the Redwood tree. These Redwoods I learned, bloom one more time after they have fallen to the forest floor; one last season of new seeds to be distributed. Because these Redwoods know their existence is crucial to the existence of the forest they occupy, they provide it with new growth. And this is redemption. Life through death, life began again. It is not death without credit to time. It is not a means to an end or a goal cut short. It is not a dead end job. It is a progression. It is the forest trying to get it right… trying to sustain itself. It is communal living. It is what hopefully we seek over and over again until we too get it right.