Friday, January 25, 2013

Where Is My St. Paul Moment?

When I was a teen, I wanted to be St. Paul: struck from my horse by the force of a truth that was certain. I actively hunted for conversion in books, as if a phrase could set my life on course.

I looked for conversion in people too. Once I thought I had found certainty in a bearded guru. Eventually I found it in an unbearded teacher.

Of course, the light that flooded me at those moments was not precisely a “great light from the sky,” like St. Paul’s light in today’s reading from Acts. It was not a light associated with the voice of Jesus the Nazorean. But I was avid for light and I took what I could get.

The important thing I did, and it seems reckless to me now, was to follow the light when once I saw it.

When Paul arrives in Damascus, Ananias asks him, “Now, why delay?” To my credit, also sometimes at my peril, I am an impatient person, and I have seldom delayed.

Fortunately, neither the bearded guru nor the unbearded one was the last light I saw.

In 1982, or thereabouts, I fell in love with a woman I had known since 1974. That long story will be a central episode in the memoir I am writing. That love struck me like a great light, but when I staggered into Damascus I was still blind, and I delayed for the better part of two years. But I never forgot the light, and it changed my life. The woman’s name was Katie.

In 2007—and here the date is precise, Friday, October 12—I staggered into Borders Books in Peabody, Massachusetts, and saw a light again. I was already staggering because, and I’m not ashamed to say it, I was drunk. But the light was a book, and I bought two copies, and read one by Sunday, and began going to Mass on Monday morning. The name of that book was My Life with the Saints.

Two years later, drunk again (I was drinking a lot in those days), I was struck by another insight, and I followed it again. This time I was led by memory and e-mail to a friend of forty years ago. Our exchange of e-mails—and subsequently our meetings in person and revelations to each other—set me on the quest I find myself on today, writing the story of my life. The name of that friend is given here as Larry McAllister, though that is a pseudonym.

My point is, in the self-centeredness of my youth, I expected, and thought I deserved, to see a light from the sky, and like some of my contemporaries I sought that light in books, people, and sometimes drugs too.

But the light, when it comes, is not even always recognizable as light or “great.” The thing we have to do, the thing I have done, thank God, is to follow it, at my peril and possibly to my credit.

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