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In Soft Garments
O. P. Kretzmann

Once a year, usually as winter moves sluggishly to ward a lagging spring, all the people on the way with me develop an astonishing unanimity… All of them — family, friends, superiors, colleagues, students — agree enthusiastically that I should go away, far away… The specifics vary

— a slow boat to China, a journey to the Antarctica, a stay in the Florida Everglades, or in the hills of Arizona — almost anywhere, only away…

They are fearfully right… The wheels have been creaking and the machine has begun to stagger… The symptoms are clear… Minor things have become major things, I have been yelling when I should smile, and I have laughed when I should have been weeping… I write bitter letters and forget to tear them up; I say bitter things and forget to apologize… God is not in His heaven and nothing is right with the world…

And so again this year as spring stumbles in, I find myself beside a small Southern lake a thousand miles from home, and in the company of a hundred coots, three geese, and an unknown number of screaming gulls… I also have a book — the story of Martin Luther from 1483 to 1521, the strange odyssey from a cradle in Eisleben to an emperor in Worms… It is an illuminating story — but often it falls from my hands as I turn to watch the ways of coots on a pond or the doings of three geese hiding from the wind out of the North… The gander in charge acts like a college administrator — a gentle nudge here and there, an angry honk now and then, and a benign illusion that his is the best academy in the world… His is a private school, one instructor for every two students, and he surveys, with lordly contempt, the coots who are obviously the products of Florida State…

It is a good place to dream, clothed in the soft garments of the warm wind and the sun… Perhaps it really is not dreaming, but neither is it thinking… It is per haps a wavering and wandering between the two like the fi rst moment of waking in the morning… The dream of the night and the thought of the new day are curious ly interwoven and one can hardly know where one ends and the other begins… To clarify the situation and to draw me from dreaming a crow has joined me…

Our eyes focus on a single coot paddling alone close to the shore… Curiously, I seem to remember seeing him yesterday… He is larger than most coots, with a white spot on his back… Clearly, he is a loner, a non conformist, and my friend beside my chair is interested because this aloneness makes him a possible target for a quick swoop with reinforcements for him far away…

I cannot tell what my black companion is thinking… We are not completely integrated and there is a lament able separatism about him… As for me, my nonconformist coot leads to a half-dreaming, half-thinking re view of my own experiences with nonconformism — in my life, my Church, my times…

And yet the nonconformism of my contemporaries interests me — if no one else… In a way, it is a very good thing… The time of change is upon us and the years of the locust cast a long and dark shadow on the road before us… Perhaps it is good that we break with the faithless years and now go our own new way, but neither my crow, living for food, nor my coot, paddling far and alone from his fellows, are the answer… conformism, just for the sake of the momentary sense bravery which it brings is stupid, incredibly and unintelligently stupid… It, with its historic amnesia, leaves life rootless and aimless… Only when it is rooted in a wise awareness of the evil and the dark of the past can it hope to do anything great and good for the present and the future… This is a law which our generation has forgotten, especially the so-called New Left… To be new and/or left just to be new or left is a poor, very poor answer for the problems which now vex and destroy our souls…

I turned to my friend beside me… He seemed to have fallen asleep… Look,” I said, “why dont you just go away? The coot out there is forever beyond your reach. Go away! With a sudden caw of fright he flew to the low branch of the oak behind us… I was alone again…

And yet not quite alone… Perhaps I had crossed again the thin line between thinking and dreaming, but I remembered again all the roaming, restless, wandering nonconformists whom I had known these many years… There was still hope for them but it would not come from the black nihilism of against-ness… It would come from Him Whose eye was again on the sparrow — and the crow and the coot — and Who would give to us as the mysterious example of His abounding dressed, now and again, in the soft garments of the warm wind and the sun…

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