Friday, May 28, 2010

Creative Destruction

"The Destructors" by Graham Greene captured me from the first sentence, as some short stories do, and I reread it every so often, to dig deeper into it and reexperience its events. It's about a gang of children that utterly destroys a townhouse, demolishes it piece by piece - from the furniture to the fixtures to the floors and ceilings and walls to the utilities to the roof and sides - till it is quite literally a pile of rubble. The de facto leader of the gang, T, directs the whole operation with fascinating resourcefulness. One of the boys asks T if he is destroying the house because he hates the owner, "Old Misery."

"Of course I don't hate him," T said. "There'd be no fun if I hated him. . . . All this hate and love," he said, "it's soft, it's hooey. There's only things, Blackie," and he looked round the room crowded with the unfamiliar shadows of half things, broken things, former things.

T's father is an architect, and T understands the significance of this house built by Wren, with 200-year-old panelling and a spiral staircase held up by opposing forces. T's housebreaking is a creative act - a creativity that receives additional power and force from the building's original greatness. Additionally, destroying the house is necessary to set Old Misery free from his prison-like existence within this beautiful home, with its "half things, broken things, former things" and his life savings hid in a mattress (which the boys burn, down to the last banknote).

During high school I studied geology with my dad, who has an inexplicable love for rocks. I resisted this study until I began learning about the rock cycle. Volcanic lava hardens and becomes igneous rock; over time this rock is given new identity by heat and pressure (metamorphic rock), or broken down and deposited into the earth over time to form sedimentary rock. Ultimately any rock is subject to the possibility of being remelted by a volcano or vent and transformed once again. I can't think of anything more savagely destructive than a volcano, earthquake, or flood, and yet these are the means by which rocks are completely transformed into new things. Same material, new identity.

One day I woke up and couldn't pretend anymore, couldn't take it anymore. I wanted to find something better, but in stretching toward hope I pulled the pin from a grenade. The universe cracked open, all its wrongness turned up to the light of day, people went stumbling around into potholes everywhere. Doing the right thing now seems so, so wrong.

Is this what God does - transform our lives utterly by burning away everything, dredging things up from the very bottom, heating and pressurizing and restructuring life's chemical makeup to make a new heaven and earth out of the old? Do we, and the universe, carry within us the very material that will be perfected and beautified at the end of things?

1 comment:

Kelly Langner Sauer said...

oh, oh, oh... incredible post.

you give me chills. I always knew I liked you.