I have a leather satchel that’s getting a little worse for wear. It’s sitting here on the bench beside me. It goes with me.
I wear jeans most days, and most of the pairs of jeans I have outlasted in these past years have perished because the fabric on the right hand hip wore away, was rubbed out, by her. I’m sure I have a twist in my spine also. I’m growing into her. The blue dye of my jeans has stained the back panel of the bag. The leather there is highly polished, hard, like the saddle between the thighs of an old drover. But the grain on the front is soft and tender, grained and lined familiarly, like the inside of an old thigh. Hard travelling makes the world harder. Maybe polishes it to a brilliance. And maybe it makes the traveller tender.
Like age spots, the rain has stained along the spine. Leather drinks in the storms; a pardonable fault, we all have our ways of coping—except for nylon, which has no give or take. Look, I admit it, I’m sorry, what can I say? I like to walk in the rain, I don’t make things easier. And yes, I will be the death of you. I will wear you out. I grieve. Sometimes I don’t know whether I can see the life in death, or the death in life. Like the duck/rabbit. But we are reconciled when I sit down with the leather preserver (Dubbin) and a soft old rag (usually broken-in underwear) and massage the life back into her skin. Working the Dubbin into the lines and grains, seeing the colour come back, like a soul responding to caress. You can tell if something has a soul by how it responds to touch. That’s the secret of the Christian religion right there.
In the bottom of my satchel are two painted wooden blocks: a blue semi-circle with white dots, and a pink rectangle with yellow stripes; a child’s toys… my son. He put them there some months ago. Not while I was around, I discovered them later, like little eggs laid by a duck/rabbit, like the gifts of God: unlooked for but causing a lot of grinning when noticed. I looked in my bag and grinned like a true idiotes, like a man who walks in storms with the treasures of a duck/rabbit slung on his hip.
Putting things inside other things fascinates him, the congruence of objects, the fittingness of the world, the possibilities of the inner… he wouldn’t put it like that but I know what he means. It is the language of God. I learned theology so I could begin to speak to infants: “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”. I love watching him grow into the world: fitting it, turning things over and over, pulling apart and hiding away. I love that he hugs me back, and sometimes pats me on the back, like I do when I hug him. I love that we can make each other laugh. These are the building blocks of a man made to walk with his Creator, who can learn to love this old leather world—treat her with care and be polished tender in his travels—and find the gifts of God in her soft folds.