the accumulation of deterioration

Posted by on May 29, 2006

The sign above is just a variation on a theme here on my blog. But now, something emerges from the accumulation that is new.

I wanted to call this post “notes from the fallen world,” but feel timid about using theological language. A degree in theology didn’t make me notice the falleness of the world more than I had before, but it gave it a name and a narrative, and acted as a preventative as well. What I mean is, thanks to my teachers, I can not romanticize my faith, or the way that grace may be working in my surroundings, considering what it has to work with. Nor can I blind myself to grim realities. I can only hope that grace is in fact working, even violently if need be, as Flannery O’Connor shows so truly. And then there is the voice of Fr. Thomas Hopko, hammering a hundred variations on a single theme: ladies and gentlemen, we live in a fallen world. Apparently, that theme finally lodged itself securely in someone’s brain.

My hands have been doing dirty work this weekend, accomplishing tasks put off because they are a pain. We took a year’s worth of cardboard boxes and paper to the recycling center. We vacuumed and cleaned out our car, took four loads of laundry to the laundry mat, and installed a window air conditioner in our bedroom window. This blog is not a diary about my life, but I mention these things in order to wax thoughtful. They put me in touch with a non-negotiable aspect of life in this world, and that is: the constant maintenance and upkeep required of its true participants. If you choose not to participate, neglect the tasks out of laziness, they will come back swiftly to kick you in the butt (I believe that is in Proverbs). And despite the energy we invest, things keep deteriorating, like the above sign advertising a has-been car wash. The car wash is long abandoned and rusted over, as are, no doubt, the cars that once patronized it, whose owners dutifully washed, and washed, and washed their doomed possession.

On the way to the South Bend recycling center you must pass the abandoned Studebaker factory which looks as if its once-tender innards were torn apart by wild teeth. Fiberglas insulation unstuffs itself from every orifice, and various piles on the property are like giant sculptures of someone’s mutilated paper napkin, saturated with orange pizza grease–little shreds of rusted steel parts. What is going to happen to all of those materials disassembling themselves into dirty, untouchable chaos?

What happens to things we throw away? I am plagued by this question but too busy/lazy keeping deterioration at bay in my own living space to educate myself to the level of a bonified environmentalist. Dirty dishes, bathroom mold, dust bunnies tethered together with my own stray hairs, and old shoes that may or may not need to go to Goodwill, depending on a hypothetical future situation in which they may come in handy. Goodwill…yet another depressing bastion of castaway crap. And speaking of depression, I am vulnerable to it. At certain moments, the sight of the Studebaker factory or the dust bunny in the hallway can trigger equally sizeable feelings of despair inside me. But I try to keep doing my chores and thus avoid falling into it. I fight the good fight.

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  1. Red
    May 29, 2006

    This is a beautiful reflection on the chaos and fallen ness of our lives. I loved the last bit about how it often inspires despair. I wonder what that is: our fear of dissolving into chaos ourselves, that no one will notice or stop it from happening, that we too are disposable. Or maybe it’s the reminder that we are not done toiling here in this mess, there is still more work to be done and the work I thought I had completed is still there waiting for me to return to it. In the end, I think you are right, the only way to address the despair is to get back to work.

  2. Jenny
    June 2, 2006

    Dear Julia,

    I love this image and post. I feel like these concrete tasks to do give us some achor in the fallen word. They also give us a chance to begin to try, in our own feeble ways, to piece Eden back together again. We restore order and beauty in our own worlds and then we can begin to see again. Like you, I worry about what happens to everything I send to the dumpster. I love leaving my possessions in the alley, though, and waiting for somebody to snatch them up and value them again.

  3. anna j
    June 5, 2006

    Beautiful, Julia–you are eloquent and thought-provoking as usual.
    I used to resent the repetitive, seemingly endlessly unproductive nature of household tasks. Recently, however, I seem to have made peace with them. What I think I realized is that the repetitive replacing-of-the-order-around-me is somehow therapeutic, even healing. It’s as if the rote tasks of predictability and instant gratification somehow shield against the chaotic and uncontrollable nature of the rest of life . . . and of this fallen world. I suspect, mind you, that there is also just a hint of simple gratitude for any sort of work that provides instant, visible gratification 🙂

  4. Lucy
    June 10, 2006

    Oh, the way dust bunnies trigger depression! The sight of one or two of those domestic tumbleweeds under the futon can send a piercing shot of desperation at my heart. They say “why even try?”

    Jules, this peice is eloquent and inspiring. The description of the studebaker factory chilling and beautiful.

    So, er, time to get back to work…