Room Inside a Box

"There is no room inside a box." ~Doug Pinnick

Location: Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, United States

I started this blog as a soundboard for some much needed therapy during my separation with my wife throughout much of 2005. It was truly a blessing to get my thoughts out there through the writing process. Thankfully things have worked out between us. I would have continued to blog, but ever since I started my teaching career, I have found it impossible to do as much blogging as I would like to. So now I hope to periodically post as time and energy allow.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


"But the opposition between the 'intended' and the 'accidental' begins to break down at this point: if Joyce intentionally builds a machine of such complexity that unforseen connections are bound to arise when it comes into contact with a reader possessing equally complex systems of memory and information, we cannot call them 'unintentional' in any straightforward sense of the word. And this means we cannot say that the openness to chance and to the reader that I am arguing is Joyce's link with postmodernism is only an 'accidental' effect of his overloaded monumentalization."

~Derek Attridge, "The postmodernity of Joyce: chance, coincidence, and the reader"


In Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, he discusses a time in his life when he was ardently struggling with his vocation of whether or not to become a priest. He tells of how he did the whole open-the-Bible-and-randomly-point-to-a-verse-and-it-will-be-an-omen-from-God type thing, and he mentions how this was evidence that he “was not very advanced in the spiritual life” because there are so many “difficulties which show how silly it is to make an oracle out of books.” Well, it turns out that the verse his finger fell on was, “Behold, thou shalt be silent,” which in the long run is what he ended up doing: taking a vow of silence and entering a Trappist monastery. So much for that silly Word of God.

This story really spoke to me when I read it a couple of weeks ago, piquing my curiosity about the nature of how God speaks to us. One could certainly write this story off—and others like it—as some sort of cosmic coincidence. My rational mind would love nothing more. But my romantic side says otherwise—especially on days like today: September 23, 2005.

You see, lately I’ve had this nagging, yet quiet voice in the back of my mind telling me to just end it. Why fight so much? Why struggle with preserving this marriage that’s been so dead for so long? Maybe Ann’s right. Maybe some of my friend’s are right. Perhaps I should move on. Maybe I need to reevaluate my principals and beliefs. Maybe I am too old-fashioned and romantic. Maybe life is entirely about being happy at all cost.

This nagging, yet quiet voice has been increasingly more difficult to ignore over the past couple of months. I have always been able to refute it with such resolution, such conviction, such belief. But lately that confidence has been waning. And then came today. Today I pulled a Merton and then my good friend Kelly came along to put the icing on the cake. What a great day. Let me tell you…

So I’m in Borders, as is my want on Friday afternoons after school lets out. I’m finishing up my journaling for the day—going over yesterday’s (mostly) productive conversation with Ann and thinking about some of the positive steps she’s taking in her life (not with respect to me per se, but baby steps are better than no steps). Before I decide to leave heaven—I mean Borders!—I wander over to the Religion section where I know my new mentor Frederick Buechner sits. I often do this with James Joyce, too: I know I’m not going to buy anything; I just like looking at the books. So I pick up Buechner’s Listening to Your Life and I start thumbing through it, wishing I had $15.00 to spare. Then I put it down, remembering that I needed to get going. But then something struck me. I don’t know what it was; it was just this feeling inside me that I had to turn around and see what his entry was for today (the book is a collection of 366 entries taken from his wide body of work, one entry to ponder for each day of the year, including leap year). So I go back to the shelf and open the book to September 23, thinking all along, like Merton, how silly I was acting.

And this is what I read:

"But on the really crucial decisions of life—Do I love her enough to marry her? Is it worth dying for? Can I give my life to this?—when it comes to decisions like these, it is not just the pro-and-con-listing part of me or the coin-tossing and advice-seeking parts that are involved. It is all of me, heart, mind, will, and when the moment comes and I find myself moving out for good and all, one way or another, there is a kind of restless spontaneity about it, a kind of terrific sense of conviction, so that if you are Matthew in the tax office, you lay down your slide rule and your pencil, do not even finish the form that you happened to be working on at the moment, but just push back your chair and start heading for the door without even bothering to pick up your coat hanging over by the water cooler. And then you step out of there forever without once looking back over your shoulder, and start following the way you have chosen: not that way over there or that way right here, but this way. Of all the ten million and one ways in the world, you choose this way. Or maybe it chooses you—to put it a better way. Or you choose each other, your way and you."

I was completely, utterly, absolutely dumbfounded in every way imaginable. Here I was, for weeks now, doubting my resolution, doubting my conviction, doubting my beliefs. And now this. Resolution. Conviction. Belief. Instead of having the God who can control even the minutest of coincidences speak to me through his Word, he allowed his Word to speak via an editor who was compiling this book, who through a staggering set of coincidences with respect to my person just so happened to place this one entry among possibly thousands on this date, this very same date I was in Borders following some mystical sense to inanely find some direction in a book whose very structure centered on a calendar that is designed to follow the Earth’s rotation around the sun, the properties of which were laid down billions of years ago following an explosion brought forth by the Creator of the universe who, billions and billions of years ago, knew I would be in this spot at this time wondering if this was God or coincidence.

Either way, Buechner is right. He is dead right. This passage is so miraculously powerful. I did love her enough to marry her. She is worth dying for. I will give my life for this marriage. This is the path among ten million and one I have chosen. And mysteriously this path did choose me out of the ten million and one it could have chosen. I am flabbergasted, dumbfounded that a passage that speaks directly to me, directly to my doubts, directly to where I was most broken, was here in this one book among hundreds of thousands, on this one date among hundreds, in this one store among dozens. And then I get home and read that Kelly has chosen to write on this topic as well, this topic of two people working together to make a marriage work, this idea of sticking at it, growing through the difficult times, working toward a real and beautiful relationship based on true love and true sacrifice. She speaks from a heart of resolution, of conviction, of belief. And she chose to write all this on this particular day, September 23.

What a staggering coincidence. What a staggering God.


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