“The whole world becomes miraculous, so the miraculous becomes ordinary without ceasing to be at the same time miraculous . . . the entire world is subject to ‘suddenly'” (Mikhail Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, quoted in Peter J. Leithart, Deep Comedy).
I’ve been thinking about it all day: what it means to be subjected to “suddenly.” Honestly, I think, given the option, I’d be tempted to opt out of this one. I’m the girl who lives safe, finding inaction preferable to the risk of incorrectness. If I’m driving, I like to read and thoroughly understand the directions before departure. Give me an easy thing where I expect something hard, and I may have difficulty accepting it as grace — because it isn’t the thing for which I planned. “Suddenly” sets preparation and plans at naught; “suddenly” frightens me.
Are you laughing at me, the girl who wants to live unsurprised? But “suddenly” doesn’t always come like a surprise birthday party or Lazarus walking out of the tomb. To be subject to suddenly is to realize that my desperate grip on the controls of my life means nothing and controls nothing. “Suddenly” makes me angry.
But then I remember that to abolish “suddenly” would be to do away with days like today, when the sun slicing through smoke-blue clouds surprised me on my way home, when I ran out-of-doors to photograph the wild peach blossoms which I never remember to expect, when the dog lost a month ago and given up for dead appeared in the yard all bones and skin and an immense appetite. Only a fool would opt out of today.
G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown remarks “I never said it was always wrong to enter fairyland. I only said it was always dangerous.” I’ve been thinking about that, too. How the danger in fairyland lies in its very subjection to “suddenly.” Would anyone want to go to fairyland if it weren’t subject to “suddenly”? Isn’t that where its magic lies? We love the fairy tales because we don’t know what mischief hides in the deep woods of fairyland, and we are excited to meet it, because we know the formula: whatever Cinderella’s woes may be in her heap of ashes, “Happily ever after” comes at the end.
That’s the bit I lose sight of when I rage against the waste of my plans. And that’s the only part I have certain: perhaps the dress I prepared for the ball is in tatters, but that is only, though I can’t see how, to facilitate the arrival of that inevitable end.
Mary Ellen Chase speaks of “what safety there might be in the very throwing away of safety for the sake of pure desire and hope” (The Lovely Ambition). I wonder at it. I’m not a girl who throws away safety. And yet I’m not the one responsible for my safety. No. How would it be, then, to relax my grip on the controls, to spread my plans on my open palms, to smile at “suddenly”? Hear me whisper it: “I’m learning.”