As we approach the liturgical season of Lent, OSV publisher Scott R. Richert writes that…
From the Chapel — June 5: The view from my front porch
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
We held a virtual porch party today for our friends and colleagues from work. Since moving to Huntington, we have been blessed that our 1882 “Stick Style” home (a transitional style between Victorian and the Queen Anne) has a front porch that can easily accommodate a couple of dozen people, and the last two years we’ve held porch parties during the summer to ring in the weekend (and to sample my latest homebrew).
COVID-19, of course, has thrown a wrench into any parties in person, and not just because of social distancing. With no one working in the office — just a mile away from our house — swinging by after work would mean actually putting on pants and leaving home.
So instead, we each pour ourselves a drink, fire up Microsoft Teams, and toast one another for another week of jobs well done. And we look forward to when — maybe next month? — we can make those toasts in person once again.
As luck would have it (or perhaps providence — “Coincidences are spiritual puns,” said Chesterton), I’ve just started rereading Walker Percy’s novel “Lancelot.” As I’ve revisited each of his novels over the last few months, I’ve noticed something that I missed on previous readings. On the first page of every novel, there’s a line, often deceptively simple, that contains a profound insight that Percy weaves throughout the entire book.
In “Lancelot,” it comes when the eponymous central character, confined to an asylum, greets an old friend, a priest-psychiatrist, who has come to visit him: “You prefer to stand by the window? I understand. You like my little view. Have you noticed that the narrower the view the more you can see? For the first time I understand how old ladies can sit on their porches for years.”
“[T]he narrower the view the more you can see.” To say that’s counterintuitive is to belabor the obvious, but anyone who has ever spent any significant time on his front porch (or on anyone else’s front porch, for that matter) can recognize immediately what Percy is saying. In your Adirondack chair or your wicker swing, it doesn’t take long to start observing details of your immediate surroundings that the drivers of the cars going up and down your street will likely never notice. Indeed, you’re more aware of those cars and those drivers than they are likely to be of you and your porch. Relatively speaking, you’re passing each other at the same speed, but you have the advantage of observing them from a state of rest.
Porches, alas, have gone the way of the horses and buggies that once could be found in our carriage house. Most modern houses are built without them, and those that do feature a porch treat that porch not as something the architect expects you to use but as something to add interest to the house as you approach it. Even houses such as ours, which were built at a time when porches were meant to be functional, find them unused or ill used or even removed, because unless you can close the porch in and make it a room and put a 65-inch TV on the wall, what good is a porch, really?
No good, really, unless you want to understand your place in the world, to know your neighbors, to call them up to join you as they pass by, to build community, to pull yourself back down from the clouds of abstraction into which the internet and cable news have assumed you, not to conduct you into heaven but to trap you in the hell of politics and ideology and opinion masquerading as truth.
A porch is no good, either, unless you want to put down roots here and now, to find a moment of stillness in a world that knows none, to take a deep breath and open your eyes, because “the narrower the view the more you can see.”
That’s what the world looks like from my front porch. What do you see from yours?
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.