Now that is a View from Your Table that makes me happy: a big messy piece of the chicken pot pie Julie had waiting for me when I made it home tonight from 10 days of wanderings. They don’t call it comfort food for nothing.
When I emerged from the airport in Baton Rouge and went out to my car, I had broken a sweat from carrying my bags while wearing a thin wool sweater in the heat and humidity. When I left Boston this morning, that sweater was barely enough to keep me warm. I don’t like heat, and I don’t like humidity, but I liked it just fine tonight, because it told me that I was home.
It’s just shy of half an hour from the airport to my house. The radio on my old Honda is broken, so I usually listen to my phone (public radio or something on Spotify) with earphones while driving. Not tonight; I wanted to drive in silence, and to pray, and to think. I recollected all the good times I’ve had these past 10 days, visiting old friends and making new ones, talking about a book that God used to rescue me, and that I am certain can rescue others who open themselves to it. I thought about all the good meals I’d had, including three Boston dinners in a row featuring raw oysters, and a lunch too, not to mention the delicious Sichuan banquet in Houston.
I recalled all the stories I’d heard at the Q Conference, and the sense I came away with that we approach a critical moment in the life of the church in this country, and the awareness that a growing number of Christians can read the signs of the times — and are preparing. And I reflected on the numerous stories I heard from people in every place I stopped, talking about what they’re seeing and hearing and dealing with on the ground. There are people all over — people whose stories I heard — who are legitimately frightened into silence. It is time for people like me, who have a voice and who do not have to worry that I’m going to lose my job for speaking out, to speak out.
As I crossed the bridge over Thompson Creek and started climbing the big hill that marks the gateway into West Feliciana Parish, it occurred to me how grateful I am to live here. I remembered the last paragraph of The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, which goes like this:
If you had driven past the Starhill cemetery late one hot night in May, you might have seen strange figures lingering around a grave in the bottom under the hill. After a year‐end meeting at school, Abby Temple, Ashley Harvey, Karen Barron, Jennifer Bickham, Tori Percy, and Rae Lynne Thomas came to be with Ruthie on her birthday. They called Mike, who met them there. They opened a bottle of wine, poured seven glasses, and drank to the memory of their brown‐eyed girl. There, where all the dead of Starhill are gathered round, they laughed and told stories, and remembered the good times. Had you been there on that night under the live oaks and the crape myrtles, you would have seen that even from the grave, Ruthie Leming bestows life on those who are willing to receive it.
She gave me this life. It wasn’t the life I thought I was going to have here. It wasn’t the life I wanted, nor the life I thought I deserved. But it is the life I needed. From How Dante Can Save Your Life:
Here’s what I saw on Theophany. If I had not felt called by God to return to my hometown after my sister’s death, I would not have written The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, a testimonial to her goodness and the goodness of my Louisiana family and their friends. It is a story that told the beautiful truth about them all, and that has been an inspiration for countless readers, some of whom come to Starhill to visit Ruthie’s grave. Part of the money I made from the book allowed us to contribute significantly to the founding of St. John the Theologian Orthodox Mission in Starhill.
In a real sense, my sister, and the love she lived and shared with the world, gave us our church. She could not give me the love I wanted, nor could she receive the love I wanted to give. But because Ruthie lived and died radiant with love, she was able to give me priceless gifts.
She gave me the gift of homecoming. She gave me the gift of a church. and she (and others in the family) shattered my illusions and gave me the gift of exiling me into a dark wood.
It was indeed a gift. Had it not been for my fortunate fall, I never would have prayed like I did, and I never would have made my prideful self so vulnerable to Father Matthew. I never would have humbled myself enough to sit down on Mike Holmes’s therapy couch. I never would have read past the first tercet in the Commedia and never would have experienced the power of great art to change one’s life.
Without those things, I would still be in exile from God the Father, who was there all along, though I could not and would not let Him see me. “You came home expecting to find something else, but what you really found was God,” Julie told me.
As I said repeatedly to Father Matthew as we walked side by side, heart to heart, on this journey, I never would have chosen this pilgrimage had I known how hard it would be. But I am so thankful for it, because it has taken me closer to God the Father than I have ever been. This brokenness has been a gift and a mercy.
I came into the kitchen, set my bags down, and the kids squealed and ran to embrace Daddy. Roscoe rolled over and showed me his belly. I gave everybody their gifts, then ate my chicken pot pie. Nothing makes me happier than being at home with my family. Tomorrow I’ll be with my other family, in church, at the Divine Liturgy. William F. Buckley was once asked what was his favorite journey. He said one word: “Home.” I know what he meant.
Goodnight. Thank you, everybody that I met, especially those kind enough to come out to hear me speak and to buy a book. I hope How Dante doesn’t let you down. It has been a privilege to meet you and to write for you.
But now, with a belly full of chicken pot pie, I’m going to sleep. In my own bed.