Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rod Serling, Bertie Wooster and a Rabbit

Annie and I had had a small fight.  It seems that one of us (and I won't mention his name) hadn't been doing his share of washing the dinner dishes.  Or the breakfast dishes.  Or didn't even know where the dishwasher soap was kept.  Needless to say, we agreed that I would take care of the dishes for the next 10 years.  I had just finished drying the last of the pots and was getting into bed.  "Let Them Talk" was playing softly on my bedside table.  I was reading Pride and Prejudice, and Mr. Darcy had delivered his letter to Elizabeth.  It was doubtful that she would ever understand the extent of his love for her.  I felt my eyelids begin to droop more and more until...

I found myself in the kitchen at the stove.  Bacon and eggs were on the skillet, a round splatter cover protecting me from the grease.  The kettle was on for coffee.  Annie's words were echoing in my head.  I was in front of a big pan of grits.  "Why am I cooking grits?" I asked to the air.

"It's because your father ate grits while he was in the service."  I looked to my right and found Rod Serling standing there.  Black suit, black tie and black shoes.  "You still play out your frustrations over your childhood anxieties, and how your father couldn't solve all your issues.  Yet you cling to his presence by mimicking his actions.  Such as eating grits.  And by the way, those aren't grits."

I looked down.  Somehow, I had missed something.  The pan was filled with flakes of Cream of Wheat and milk.  White clumps clung to the wooden spoon.  I picked up the box next to the stove and squinted at the writing.  Everything was jumbled, but I could make out the image of a chef with a bowl in his hand on the front of the box.  "Are you going to psychoanalyze me?" I asked impatiently.

"You were thinking about your wife."

"Hmm...I'm not sure I want you meddling inside my head."

"In fact, you've been thinking of several women." he added.

I definitely didn't want him inside my head.  I looked over at Rod.  "How can you know my thoughts?  Are you real?"

"Define 'real'?" he asked.  I rolled my eyes.  "You fantasize over the women in your office to relive the excitement of your earlier married years.  Blond, brunette, tall, short.  It doesn't make a difference who they are.  You find their faces in your head when the lights are turned out at night.  Suppressed sexual feelings that you once directed towards your wife are..."

"Rod, you do a great job on the show.  You freak me out most of the time.  But my marriage is only between me and my wife."

"I'm just discussing what is 'real'.  If it's all just inside your head, is it 'real'?  How would you describe your love for your wife?  Is that 'real'?  It's amazing how the mind thinks!  As if what runs around in the head never spills out.  But it always does, you know.  Some way or another."

I wasn't comfortable with what he was saying.  Hearing some noise in the next room, I walked out of the kitchen with the messy wooden spoon in my hand.  Jeeves was leaning over and serving Bertie Wooster a drink.  Bertie had a dark three-piece tux on with dark shoes and spats.

"I would not advise it, sir." Fry commented.

"Jeeves, my plan is full-proof!  I plummet the boy with breakfast rolls and Lydia's heart is won over when Johnston rescues him."  Bertie accepted the drink from the tray presented to him and looked up at Jeeves.

"The success in the plan lies in it's secrecy.  Women's hearts are won over by gallantry and heroism!"

"And for you, sir?"  Jeeves began picking up some toys on the floor and moving them to the closet.

"Me?  No!  Freedom is a cherished virtue, old boy!  Regardless of my aunt's devices, yours truly will never be chained down by marital duties and dog-hours at the office.  I will continue to float from flower to flower but always free.  What-oh!"

"Do either of you gentlemen want grits or Cream of Wheat?" I asked.

Jeeves and Wooster
"Blimey!  You mean those nasty grimy American boiled specs of grain?  Those do add an unwanted lining to the old stomach, don't they?"  Bertie peered into his glass of champagne.  "It seems to me that there's so much 'what-its' over love that a man would go bankrupt within a year.  No freedom for laying a bet.  No traveling with your good friend filling one's cap with exploits and adventures.  All tied down to house and home and washing the dishes!"

"Certainly not the life for you, sir." Jeeves interjected.

I realized that I was wasting my time with Wooster.  I walked into the office.  Tony Evans and Jack, my college roommate, sat on two chairs facing each other, a cribbage board on a table between them.

"You need to get rid of your idols, Jim." Jack murmured, pouring over his cards.

I looked around the room.  There were a couple of African masks up on the wall.  But they were merely for decoration.

"I'm not bowing down to anything here!"  I objected.

"Greed is an idol," Jack said.  "Power.  Popularity.  And pornography is an idol, too.  It's an image we keep in our mind that affects our heart rates, our breathing and keeps us fantasizing.  We men bow down to those images in our minds.  When we watch porn, those images get replayed over and over.  They pop into our heads when we're sharing a moment with our wives.  They're there when we watch those commercials during the Superbowl."  Jack put down a card and said, "Thirty."  Tony shook his head, and Jack moved a peg forward on the board.  "There's only one who can wash those images from our minds and lust from our hearts: Jesus.  You need to stop bowing down to those idols and turn to the one who can fill your mind, your heart and your soul with what's real and alive."

I suddenly thought of my other visitor.  I glanced over to the other room.  Rod had sat down and was in a deep discussion with Jeeves.  Bertie was admiring a life-size cutout of Louis Armstrong.  " what is 'real'?" I asked.

I felt a tug at my pant leg.  I looked down and saw a raggedy stuffed bunny looking up at me.  It's right eye was gone.  Both ears were frayed at the ends and were limp.  There were two or three different colored patches on its body.  A few whiskers were missing.  "Real isn't what you start out with." it said.   "It's what you become.  It's when the love rubs your fur off when your child holds you each night in bed.  It's when a close friend's tears wet your neck.  It's when your best friend holds your paws and prays their Lord's Prayer and you're close enough to see the change in their lives, too."

I took a sudden breath.  Annie, Tessa and James immediately came to my mind.  Their laughter and tears.  The hugs.  The walks and talks together.  Their demands for fairness during games and their cheering when they overcame their fears.  And suddenly all those superficial images of other women crinkled to the floor.  They weren't what was real or alive.

Tony Evans
Tony put his cards down and looked straight into my eyes.  It was a little intimidating.  "My small friend here is right.  And the first steps to becoming real always starts out with faith.  You may think you don't have enough...but you do!  You need to act like God is telling you the truth.  Remember what Jesus said?  'You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.'  He wants to free you from that sin of lust and know the love that comes from Him. Trusting in your own strength isn't what helps you overcome.  The One who created the stars and knows them by name will guide you in the way you should walk.  By the way, Jim, you don't have that good a memory.  You try to re-capture the feeling, the excitement of love.  But it was more than that at the beginning.  You expressed your love for Annie everyday.  Opening the car door for her.  She was the first one you ran to when coming home from work.  Encouraging her when she was down.  And the dishes were done with joy...together!  You need to remember, repent and return to that first love."

I stood there feeling numb. Annie and I had been married for over 15 years.  I thought some things would remain as habits.  But it had to be more than just a habit.  I was going to have to think back to what we had before.  Start remembering.

"You were wrong, you know." Jack said.

"That seems to be the consensus around here." I said, looking down at the rabbit.

"Your marriage isn't in a bottle.  It's not cut off from everything and everyone else.  One of the purposes of attending a church is for others to be able to speak into your life.  One member lifts up another member.  Speaking the truth in love.  God uses the church to extend His grace."

"Don't forget the kids!" Tony chimed in.

"The kids?" I asked.

"Of course, the kids!  You think they're not taking notes?"  He let out a big boisterous laugh.  "Your daughter's looking at you, watching how you love your wife.  Because your example is what she's going to look for in the man she marries someday.  And your son...he's learning from your example for what kind of husband he's going to be to his wife.  That's love that's passed down.  Your marriage isn't supposed to be put in a jar.

Jack raised his head and sniffed.  "Smells like your grits are burning, Mr. Darcy."

I turned towards the door.  "No...I'm not...I was cooking Cream of..."

"Hot tamales and they're red hot! Yeah...she's got 'em for sale!" I heard Bertie call out.  Everything began to swirl in front of me.  The rabbit was on one of the chairs now, playing cribbage with Edwin Cole.  Jack was on the couch reading Sense and Sensibility.  I closed my eyes and shook my head.  Opening them again, I found myself in bed.  The sun was coming in, streaming through the curtains.  I looked over and saw that Annie was already up.

I got out of bed and walked into the kitchen.  Tessa was at the table eating some sugar-coated loops.  Annie was in the computer room checking emails.  I stood there for a moment, trying to get a handle on my surroundings.  Going over to the top drawer, I pulled out a pair of clippers and went to the backyard.  Finding the reddest rose, I cut it above the second leaf and trimmed the thorns off.  I placed it at Annie's place at the dinner table.  A small smile began creeping up on Tessa's face.

"We're out of Cream of Wheat." Annie said as she came into the room.  "I'll add that to the grocery list."  She glanced down at the rose.  " sweet."  She kissed me on the mouth.

Tessa stuck out her tongue.  "Blehhhh!!"

I took Annie's hand.  "Listen.  I know the kids are watching a movie tonight.  Why don't we spend some time afterwards talking and praying for each other?"

She turned her head and looked at me.  "Are you for real?"

"Ummm...I think so."

Annie smiled and gave me a peck on the cheek.  "That'll be nice.  It's been quite some time since we've done that."

I nodded my head.  Repenting might be difficult.  Returning will take time.  But thankfully, I knew I wasn't alone in that journey.

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