Our Little Stories
Stop me if you've heard this one before.
So, a man walks into a bar . . .
I know, I know, it doesn't seem like the kind of story these girls are busy with in Renoir's painting, but bear with me. We'll get back to the girls soon enough.
As I was saying, a man walks into a bar. It's early afternoon, no other customers cluttering up the joint. The bartender's polishing the counter but pauses to ask the man what he'll have.
"Scotch on the rocks, please."
The phone rings at the other end of the bar, and the bartender excuses himself to answer it.
"Nice haircut," the man hears.
He looks about him, startled. No one's come in; the bartender's on the phone. Weird.
"And I like your tie."
He swirls around to see who's crept up on him. Not a soul is there. Bizarre.
"Is the jacket new? Because it's really an excellent fit - looks like it was made for you."
The man doesn't even bother looking around, just rubs his eyes and then looks desperately toward the bartender, who's approaching with his drink.
"Did you say something?" he asks hopefully. He takes the glass and swallows half the contents in a gulp (he leaves the ice).
The bartender shakes his head. "Not me."
"Well that's the darndest thing. I come in and order my drink. You walk away and I hear someone tell me I have a nice haircut. Then he likes my tie, and just before you come back, I hear my jacket's tailor made, fits like a glove or some such, but you can see for yourself there's no one in the place. I think I need another drink."
"Relax," says the bartender. He points to the bowl on the bar in front of the man. "It's the peanuts. They're complimentary."
+ + +
Okay, I'm laughing (I get a kick out of those peanuts every time!) and Marcel and Jesus are laughing too, but I'm not sure if it's just because they think the joke is funny (they've heard it before) or because they think it's funny that I'm telling it here. No matter, as long as I've got them laughing, we can relax (it's the peanuts, they're complimentary! Okay, I'm laughing again!)
I haven't counted lately, but I'd say there are at least 1,000 books in my house. Four of them, right next to my bed, are Marcel's books, but of them all, the one I reach for first thing in the morning and replace beside me last thing at night is Conversations. Kind of like the peanuts joke, it doesn't get old, always makes me smile, and often even gets me laughing out loud.
So this morning I was reading Conversations, and I came across Jesus saying, "Marcel, I love you dearly, I am very pleased with you. These little stories please me, they even make me forget my sadness and they will draw to me, later, from little souls, a number of other little stories of the same kind." (396)
Guess what little story Marcel was telling Jesus?
No, it wasn't the peanut story!
But, oddly enough, what Marcel was telling Jesus didn't look anything at all like a story to me.
See what you think. Here's what came just before Jesus' words about Marcel's little stories pleasing Him:
Marcel: Alas! Little Jesus, all You know how to do is to speak. [Jesus had just given an explanation in answer to a question Marcel asked.] In such heat, to oblige me to close my door and write, who would be able to put up with that? To allow me to do the work carefully that You ask, You should pay attention so that air comes into my room to refresh me a little; without that Your work will be delayed. You can take it or leave it.
I feel a little like the man in the bar. Did Marcel really just tell Jesus that He could take it or leave it? Unless it's the translation (just kidding, Jack!), I don't see any alternative but to start laughing. Which, I might add, I am doing again.
Marcel, I love you!!!
Who else would talk to Jesus this way? And get the response Our Lord and Savior gives you?
For here is what comes next:
Jesus: Marcel, what good is that going to do? The fanlight being open, the air can get into your room. And when it is a little too warm you will be able to offer me this sacrifice, without fear of any harm to yourself; and by this little sacrifice you will be able to save a great number of souls from eternal fire...
Marcel, do not complain. Try to smile a little. Do not be afraid of perspiring; nevertheless, I see you look tired. That is sufficient, rest yourself. [And here comes what I quoted at the outset.] Marcel, I love you dearly, I am very pleased with you. These little stories please me, they even make me forget my sadness and they will draw to me, later, from little souls, a number of other little stories of the same kind.
Have I told you that my husband is a philosopher? He (and this goes for me too, though I am not a philosopher exactly) loves St. Thomas Aquinas and counts himself one of St. Thomas' disciples. St. Thomas is amazing because he commented on many books of Sacred Scripture, many books of Aristotle, and also managed to write huge tomes like the Summa Theologiae. Add to this the many, many commentaries on St. Thomas' writings (my husband's favorites are by Sylvester Maurus, for the record), and a disciple of St. Thomas is kept quite busy merely hoping to get through a fraction of the Angelic Doctor's recorded wisdom.
I bring all this up because while I don't think Marcel will be named a Doctor of the Church any time soon (for one thing, he needs to be beatified and canonized first!), I can think of no greater "philosophical" work for my life than spending the rest of my days writing commentaries on Marcel's Conversations. Take the section I've just quoted. I need to comment on what kind of little story Marcel was telling - this is imperative, because Jesus says "These little stories . . . will draw to me, later, from little souls, a number of other little stories of the same kind." But before I even get to that, I must comment first on this other word of Jesus (from those quoted above):
"And when it is a little too warm you will be able to offer me this sacrifice, without fear of any harm to yourself; and by this little sacrifice you will be able to save a great number of souls from eternal fire . . . "
Speaking of the weather, I don't know about you, but here's my take on it. Occasionally, it's just perfect. Heavenly. You know, like it will be in Heaven. The rest of the time, the weather falls into two categories. It's either too hot, or too cold. When it's too cold, I complain (at least to myself) and can't wait for the weather to change. Which it will do sooner or later -- most often into weather that's too hot! And I live in one of the most perfect places (weather wise) on the face of the earth!
But here is the great news! There is nothing niggly or small, mean or thrifty about Jesus!
If someone suggested to you that we could offer up the discomfort caused by the weather, after you rolled your eyes (why is it so unhelpful to hear "Offer it up"?), wouldn't you figure it was actually a pretty good idea because by doing so you could help Jesus save a soul? (Or maybe you'd think you could help save a soul if someone offering up a chemo treatment helped too.)
I think that's about our usual estimate -- offer up my paper cut and I've helped Jesus save 1/15th of a soul.
That's our estimate.
According to Jesus, as He says to Marcel (and remember: what He says to Marcel, He says to us),
"By this little sacrifice you will be able to save a great number of souls from eternal fire . . . "
This is truly a conversation for our time!
We live in the "super size it" era. That's not a problem for Jesus!
Let's go, He says. Let's do it! I know how little you are. Don't worry, I'm God. Give me your frustration with the weather and I will save a great number of souls!
Actually He said "you will save a great number of souls." Isn't that just like Him? I love that. As Marcel's big sister said, He cannot be outdone in generosity.
But let's get back to Marcel's little story. Did you see a little story in there? At first I didn't, and then I realized that Marcel's complaint about the heat - that's his little story. That's the kind of story Jesus is happy to hear from us. He's told us before through Marcel, but like Marcel we may have forgotten. The deal is, He's interested in everything that concerns us. For many of us (most of us?) what concerns us from minute to minute is often nothing more nor less than the current annoyance that threatens to unhinge us. Why not tell Jesus about it instead of just mumbling to ourselves? He actually wants to hear it!
Which brings me to the darling Renoir girls at the top of this post.
One of them is looking at the picture in the book, waiting for the other to keep reading (or turn the page). The other is looking out, kind of dazed. I think she's wondering how in the world I'm going to tie her into my story.
Well, little girl, it's like this. You have such beautiful hair. And so does the girl sitting beside you. I used to have beautiful hair too, though I don't any more . . .
And thank heavens I don't just now. The lack of it (not hair - it's not that bad, I definitely still have hair, but the lack of beautiful hair) is what gave me the key to unlock Marcel's little story here.
You see, on Ash Wednesday I was kind of naughty. Not like eating a steak naughty, but like going to get a haircut at a nice hair salon naughty. I knew it was a day of penance, but I figured why not cheer everyone up and get a haircut? The young woman who cut my hair seemed to think it was a good idea, and she spent quite some time asking me just what I wanted and attempting to understand the amount of time I would be spending on my hair "styling it" after she cut it. I tried to use plain and simple words. "None" is the word I remember using to describe the time I want to spend and will spend "fixing" my hair. I mean I will definitely wash it when need be, and brush it into a pony tail before I face the day. I will even brush it into a new pony tail in the middle of the day, just to do my best to look as pretty as I can.
There was no language barrier, and yet perhaps she thought I was joking. Anyhow, we agreed that she shouldn't cut it too short for a pony tail. And then she went to work. She cut and cut, and then she dried my hair and cut it some more. She asked if I minded. Not at all. We were both having a good time using our talents - she was very talented at cutting and styling hair, I discovered, and I am very good at sitting in a chair while someone cuts and styles my hair. It didn't occur to me that the very cute me which was the result of her efforts might require her daily ministrations to keep up the level of cuteness.
My husband (who is kind enough to always think I look beautiful) was surprised, but in a good way. He, too, thought the new look was quite cute. Reminiscent, he thought, of Marlo Thomas in "That Girl." It wasn't very penitential of me, but we were all smiling, and Jesus had said in the Gospel that we're not supposed to look like we're fasting.
Can you guess the sequel?
However long one puts off washing her hair after it's been styled with such loving care by a professional, the time does come eventually.
And then, another surprise!
Jesus can fix everything, and what was not penitential at the outset, did, with just one quarter sized dollop of shampoo, become more fitting to the season when the time came.
This morning, after reading Marcel, as I was yet again attempting to figure out a way to
a. be presentable in public
b. not spend the morning "styling" my hair,
I realized that I had a little story to tell Jesus! We both thought it was very funny. Unlike Marcel, if I am too hot, I can usually turn on the a/c instead of perspiring. But also unlike Marcel, there is this little matter of my hair flipping the wrong direction, refusing to sit quietly in a pony tail, and generally threatening to take up all my time. (Oh, and I don't think I mentioned that despite the hairdresser's best efforts to determine my personal needs and desires, the result of her work was a haircut that was exactly like hers! If I took the requisite time to style it, you could tell it was just like hers; as it is, you'll have to take my word for it.)
Suffice it to say that I am offering up this sacrifice without fear of any harm to myself, and by this little sacrifice I can save a great number of souls from eternal fire -- that's what Jesus said to Marcel and me this morning, and He never lies!
So, the moral of this post is three-fold, in honor of the Trinity.
1. Don't get your hair cut on Ash Wednesday and expect it not to be, ultimately, penitential.
2. Do tell Jesus every little story that you can. (Annoyances, pet peeves, and bad weather fit the bill, so it's unlikely you'll run out of material.)
3. Rest assured that Jesus loves you dearly. He is very pleased with you, and your little stories please Him too, making Him forget His sadness. Can you think of anything more wonderful?
Jesus put Marcel to all that work, writing in the heat, just to get the message to us. Now that we've sorted it out, they're both hoping to hear from our little souls "a number of other little stories of the same kind." What better work for Lent than to make our Jesus forget His sadness? If all else fails, tell Him the peanut joke. That one really cracks Him up!
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