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A Day By Day Conversion

Vinnie at Kate Chopin Room, originally uploaded by Liz@rt.

This was his text. It fell upon ears that had heard it before. It crept into the consciousness of Archibald, sitting there. As he gathered it into his soul a vision of life came with it; the poet’s vision, of life that is within and the life that is without, pulsing in union, breathing the harmony of an undivided existence.

Kate Chopin, from An Easter Day Conversion

Ever since my brief dwelling in the world of impermanence, clues I may have hitherto missed now seem to be scattered about helter-skelter, like wind-blown petals infiltrating unawakened consciousness. These clues come from a variety of sources. Recently they snapped into sharp focus in the form of the language of literature penned by the skilled and emancipated late nineteenth century Saint Louisan writer, Kate Chopin. Though damned during her life for the portrayal of a woman with sensuous inclinations well outside the Victorian confines of marriage in her novel The Awakening, Chopin resolutely refused to shutter herself away from the deeper spiritual realm of human existence. It is a realm which nearly all of her central characters—whether natives of the Louisiana bayous or the Midwest—seem to inhabit.

I read The Awakening in college and apparently forgot its central plot and characters. I had, obviously at some point—in my former compulsive habit of buying books I might some day read but which would, in all likelihood, take up residence as dust-collecting ornaments on my bookshelves—picked up a copy of Chopin’s posthumously published collection of short stories, A Vocation and A Voice. I would guesstimate that this tidy little Penguin paperback has stood shoulder-to-shoulder and spine-to-spine with other collegiate and post-collegiate tomes for the better part of two decades.

Our bookcase, with no other reasonable spot in our cramped abode to hold court in, lurks precariously on the mid stairwell landing. Here it has become an unavoidable fixture of my gaze during the constant up and down domestic forays between floors. Occasionally I will spare myself a few minutes for a cursory inventory of the shelves, sigh deeply, and inwardly remind myself that they could stand to become intimate acquaintances with an aggressive dust rag. But these thoughts are usually fleeting and often dissipate quickly to meld with other sub realms of reality inhabited by dust mites and unseen phantoms.

Something caused me to pause the other day, however; long enough at least to nudge Chopin’s yellowing short story collection with an index finger, thereby ushering it gently into the current landscape of my life.

In short order (less than a day, that is) I had read every story within it save the title, if only because after reacquainting myself with Chopin’s world, I felt a sad regret at the idea of relegating it yet again to the limbo world of dust-encrusted shelves. And too: Chopin’s wise and wonderful prose echos with a powerful underlying ring of eternal, timeless knowing.

Chopin’s description of Archibald (a pragmatic scientist with more interest in beetles than the human beings he encounters during a stroll through nature’s fragrant lilacs) becomes transformed after he follows a young village girl into an Easter church service. Chopin’s description of Archibald’s spiritual experience while he sits listening to the minister’s sermon, “as he gathered [it] into his soul a vision of life came with it; the poet’s vision, of life that is within and the life that is without, pulsing in union, breathing the harmony of an undivided existence,” would have struck me as pretty prose, but also as impenetrable literary symbolism during my college years. A good way to end the story, tie up loose ends and bring about a character arc in a short expanse of words, I might have surmised. Now, however, the words strike me as a gentle reminder of the most profound truth of human existence. The “poet’s vision” of a life within and without that is harmonious with “undivided existence” uncomplicated by time is a window into the timeless existence all humans naturally inhabit.

A Vocation And A Voice, after I’ve at last devoured and pondered its title story, will doubtless return to its unremarkable residence in close proximity to other slowly decomposing Penguin paperbacks. The character Archibald will be sucked back down into everlasting repose, like a vaporous, disembodied genie returning to its proverbial bottle. Yet Archibald’s “Easter Day Conversion,” which is not so much a conversion as a return to his essential essence, will remain eternally uncorked. He and it will continue to live happily alongside this grateful reader as they continue to remind me, as everyone should be reminded, of one irrefutable truth: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but rather, spiritual beings having a human experience.

Comments

Comment from mamlb
Time June 17, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Nice! Is this going to be in the book?

Comment from admin
Time June 17, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I hope so!