January with Jane 16- A Cottony Fate

Long ago, someone

told me: avoid or

It troubles the mind

as a held out piece of meat disturbs a dog

Now I too am sixty

There was no other life.

There is no other path than the one we have taken. Looking back, the path we have trod is no longer there. It has vanished! So, there is no retracing our steps, going back, starting over. For even if we turn back, the self that turns back is not the same self, and so the path will be different than the one the old self took.

That’s not to say there isn’t ‘beginners mind’, or ‘begin again’. Each day, each moment we are given that humble grace. It’s just that we are not at all going back when we begin again. As yesterday’s poem instructed so eloquently, we are made new in each moment, with each interaction, each breath.

There is only the next step, unknown until we step forward into it, for there is also no path ahead but the one that we make with each footfall, which will also disappear as soon as we take it.

The idea that each moment in our lives has not led us to the place where we are today, and that the place where we are today would not at all be the same if we hadn’t followed whatever path led us to this place, is to refuse growth. The yearning to go back, with regret, is to refuse to Love what is now, to be blind to who you are because of the path you have trod.

We live in a culture of choice overload. I once heard a social scientist state that the optimal number of choices for human well-being turns out to be 3. More than that and we are paralyzed or cannot committ (will willy nilly jump ship onto another nearby in that sea of choice if the choice doesn’t turn out the way we supposed) or conversely are filled with regret for the choice (now believed to be a better one) not taken. Any less than 3 and we feel powerless, without self-agency or individual expression.

Perhaps that’s why we live life in 3 stages. At least that’s how some pardigms imagine a human journey. Maiden-mother-crone, for instance. In each stage we get to begin again, reinvent, perhaps…. and yet , and yet still, all that has come before is a part of us. We cannot erase it, the path is no longer there to rewind. We may become as a child again, but with the wisdom of the crone.

I’ve spoken of this here before, but I share again, because it fits. I was haunted for years by the oft-quoted and beloved line from Mary Oliver’s poem, Summer Day. You know the one, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” during one of those transitions— from Mother to Crone for me. As a very young mother, I’d fully poured myself into being the best mother I could be and I truly inhabited that role with passion and Love, and yet I also fully believed that my true self was waiting in the wings for her turn to be who she was meant to be. Foolish errand that search for self, outside of my life as it was lived, turned out to be. As if Who I was, was anything other than Who i had been!

There was no other life.

Besides, if you look closely at the preceding lines to Mary Oliver’s poem, you will see that what she is granting herself (and the reader) permission to Be is In Love with Life— for her, that means watching a grasshopper move its jaws back and forth.

In the end I let go those foolish ways, laughing lovingly at myself as I did so, as if waking from a silly dream. My life, and the path that led me to this place today, has been exactly as it should be. Warts and disappointments, losses and traumas, failures and detours, missed opportunities and abandoned possibilities, chaos and deep sorrow included. And it has grown my soul deep and wide, like a fountain flowing, just as promised when i was a little girl.

January with Jane – 15. Perspective Without Which any Point in Which It Might Vanish

The way the green or blue or yellow in a painting

is simply green and yellow and blue,

and tree is, boat is, sky is

in them also—-

There are worlds

in which nothing is adjective, everything noun.

This among them.

Even today —- this falling day—-

it might be so.

Footstep, footstep, footstep intimate on it.

On first read of this one, I was drawn to the feeling of living without qualifying (or disqualifying?) label, an acceptance of things as they are, of life as it is. The simple isness of things, if you will. No good or bad. No beautiful or atrocious. But that objective glance, as if from a far distance or from deep within the witnessing mind, soon chills and empties the heart. (‘It is what it is’ so often spoken with an air of resignation, acceptance misunderstood)

Unless, of course, tree is Loved, boat, sky beloved, as they are. Pain forgiven. Sorrow embraced. Chaos allowed. Flaw hallowed. Fabric.

Is to allow a thing to exist, as it is, the same as Love? Allowing feels soft. Softening permits Love to take root in that soil. Footsteps fall soft upon that tender, sacred ground. Does adding the H of the Holy gaze transform the glance that Allows to something more akin to Love? Hallowed.

The poet’s perspective, paradoxically, brings one closer, fuller… to the point in which nothing is erased, nothing so far removed from grace, nothing closer to it either (because upon looking closer, perfection is an illusion, after all, AND because even if perfection did exist, then all things are such, AND because perfection does not in any way make a thing more Loveable, more worthy of compassion, more beautiful, if you will)

Bring it all close in. Make space for it all on the canvas of life.

Soon you will be needing a larger canvas for your heart.

January with Jane – 14. My Proteins

They have discovered, they say,
the protein of itch—
natriuretic polypeptide b—
and that it travels its own distinct pathway
inside my spine.
As do pain, pleasure, and heat.

A body it seems is a highway,
a cloverleaf crossing
well built, well traversed.
Some of me going north, some going south.

Ninety percent of my cells, they have discovered,
are not my own person,
they are other beings inside me.

As ninety-six percent of my life is not my life.

Yet I, they say, am they—
my bacteria and yeasts,
my father and mother,
grandparents, lovers,
my drivers talking on cell phones,
my subways and bridges,
my thieves, my police
who chase my self night and day.

My proteins, apparently also me,
fold the shirts.

I find in this crowded metropolis
a quiet corner,
where I build of not-me Lego blocks
a bench,
pigeons, a sandwich
of rye bread, mustard, and cheese.

It is me and is not,
the hunger
that makes the sandwich good.

It is not me then is,
the sandwich—
a mystery neither of us
can fold, unfold, or consume.

I read this poem early this morning, walked around with it in my pocket all day (that is, if you think of that Lego block bench in the back of my brain as a pocket.) As I consumed my morning oats, my evening beans. As the music played softly from the Bose in the corner (what synapses fire, what new cells are created in the hearing of a song). As a memory rose from an afternoon 5 years ago, when my beloved was in such pain, which led in turn to a memory of an evening with him lying back to drink in the stars on a slope of cool granite next to an Algonquin Lake. As I pulled the stretchy therapy bands and lifted the cold metal dumbbells in order to heal and build back muscle. As I chopped carrots and onions, pinched turmeric that scented my hands savory and stained by fingertips gold. As I strolled past the fan at the back of restaurant and inhaled the exhaust from the fryer. As I scanned the words on the envelopes I pulled from the post office box, mailed from a distant city. As I walked among the trees who exhale each moment so that I can breathe in and pondered how I do the same for them. As I breathed the same air in the auditorium with the other grandparents, aunts, siblings, parents and friends of the dancers on the stage (did the filter of the mask mean we were not breathing the same air?… and yet were we not inhaling the same visual and auditory spectacles into our eyes and ears?) As my mind imagined my being a tiny blood cell coursing through the veins of God’s body— in turn, imagining each cell of my own permeated by God.

I lift the mug to my lips now, seated next to the fire that warms, my body taking in both the warmth of the tea and that of the flame, and I think of all of these coursing through me now— the beans, the soil sunlight and water drawn into their cells, the hands that harvested, sorted, bagged, transported (oh one could go on, and this of course is not a new thought for me or for you); the Algonquin Lake and its days of intimacy transforming body, spirit, marriage, life; so many relationships that altered my life– not merely its course, but my very self – our lives like cells intersecting to share their contents and in turn create something new. I wondered that I too had become something brand new in them. I thought of a virus, also some fragment of God?, swimming in the sea of shared air, into and out of lungs, seeking purchase. I thought of my soul taking it all in — the contact of eye, the beauty of painting, the conversation with daughter, the spector of virus, the death of a friend, these thoughts on the page, 20 years with my new spouse breathing each other in. I thought of the ridiculous assumption of boundary between self and other.

Oh, what a day it was. 12 little hours, a blip in time, and, of course, I have recounted such a miniscule fragment of all that was exchanged in that briefest of time. All that was taken in and given, all that perpetually becoming something new. It was like walking on water all day, watching the miracle of a day from the Lego block bench inside my eye. I highly recommend it.

eat this bread and drink this cup. you will have eternal life.

An aside

An aside

An interlude between stanzas

made by Jane

Pausing to recall my own

refrain, reminded by a memory

His pain so intense,

no narcotic touching,

body quaking, eyes rolled back

Lover’s whisper, “Read to me”

“Read to me of our Algonquin trip”

Him instantly soothed

transported from his body

into intimacy

The Book of Love

has music in it,

soothes the savage beast

Do this

in remembrance of me.

January with Jane – 13. The Supple Deer

The quiet opening

between fence strands

perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,

four feet off the ground

the deer poured through.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns

into a stream, an arc of water.

I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer:

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me

What a stunning reversal in this one, to go along thinking

that the point is to become fluid like the deer,

to overcome boundaries or push through confinements,

  • the ways you have been fenced in (or out)
  • drawn lines around who you are allowed to be, what you are allowed to do, and still be lovable
  • assumed definitions that de –fine

(to meet in that field beyond right-doing and wrong-doing?, perhaps

or simply to partake of the nurture you have disallowed yourself due to that pervasive sense of unworthiness, as if your very humanity is a mistake

“No, you are not admitted to that table!”, though the food is freely offered

organic nourishment, part of the cycle of life

But no, that is not where you are being led at all

Rather, to imagine yourself as fence,

that part of yourself always perceived as separating your self from

what?

Other? All? Divine? Power? Grace? Love?

What is that Largeness that desires to pour itself through the very bones of your body

Oh, to let it pass through you into that field of life beyond, desperately awaiting its presence,

needing its presence to restore balance to an earth too controlled by fear

The boundary is within yourself, of course, that boundary (again) of unworthiness…

AFter all, “Who do you think you are?”

Or could it be (and this is also true for me too–

I felt it in the tuft of hair not caught)

The heaviness of other’s judgments, perceptions, labels

(oh, there it is again- de-fine -itions)

their need (for you to be a certain way in order to receive their love),

your own sense of ‘not good enoughness’

Shame, oh, there it is

Catches on something within as it passes through

on the hook, of course, of our own self-talk

Though its been a long time since I felt that quite so painfully

the spaces between the slats of my heart grown wide(r)

it still catches from time to time on a splinter…

I remember a kind woman, an elder most wise,

advising me to be like lace

to let things pass through , catching only what is good,

not the tuft of hair of something coarse,

unrefined by the fire of transformation perhaps,

though still lovable, I need no longer take it on as my own.

So even here, in my reflecting on this piece

It takes an unexpected turn.

Is the largeness that I give permission to pass through

Something Good, for Which the world needs me to be a conduit of compassion

or Something Not-so-Good (my fenceposts don’t lean towards the word evil) which I need not allow get trapped within me, caught on my own shame.

I think the first , but perhaps before I can do so,

I must practice the last.

For in either case, it is the shame of unworthiness that keeps the largeness of whatever it is from flowing through

January with Jane- 12. Contentment (in which i find myself resonant with the little red hen resisting the coop)

I had lived on this earth

more than fifty years

before hearing the sound

of sixteen New Hampshire Reds

settling in before sleep.

Dusk gathered

like a handkerchief

into a pouch

of clean straw.

But only fifteen

adjusted themselves

on the wooden couch.

One, with more white in her feathers

than the feathers of the others,

still wandered outside,

away from the chuckling

some quiet joke

neither she nor I quite heard.

“The foxes will have you, ” i told her.

She scratched the ground,

found a late insect to feast on,

set her clipped beak to peck at my shoe.

Reached for, she ran.

Ran from the ramp

I herded her toward as well.

I tried raccoons, then cold.

I tried stew,

She found a fresh seed.

Her legs were white and clean

and appeared very strong.

We ran around the coop

that way a long time,

she seeming delighted, I flapping.

Darkness, not I, brought her in.

Perusing the volume of Jane’s poetry (Come, Thief, 2011) this morning, distracted by texts from dear friends – a phone call from my daughter – my husband at last deciding now was the time (and needing my help) to hang the bathroom cabinet I’ve been wanting – resettling items neatly into that pristine cabinet from the cluttered drawer – my hungry belly – my husband again needing help figuring out how to use his phone for a task – sending him on his way – settling again into the chair by the fire with the slim book, dog earing pages that stirred (curiosity or something more)- oh, now up the stairs to relieve myself – then (while i was up!) climbing a few flights up and down to ‘get in my steps’ – here, I sit again, settling myself at last like those hens on the wooden couch.

Still uncertain the poem that will be my prayer for the day, I decide to let fate choose, and open the book randomly to one of those dogeared an hour ago. Puttering about the house, choring, this morning it was one of the few that had stuck , and so I, too, chuckled at the joke not quite heard.

It was that last line, of course, the zinger, that had struck my heart still earlier, struck a chord resonant, but desiring to resist another day’s reflecting upon the richness of darkness to turn one’s vision inward to depths unattended in the mundane, I’d withheld my pen from RSVPing to its invitation, sighing, silently, at its redundacy.

But here, see! the title of the poem, Contentment!!. She, (and I too resonant, late in this long-day-that-is life as I am) is feasting, in the last glimmers of evening light, upon late morsels of delectable delicacy, fresh seeds still to be gleaned, even now. Playfulness embodied, at last, unruffled by the spector of cold or fear of death. And what of those white, clean legs, strong, not for running away , no not that, but for delight, like a child squealing while being chased, or Julie Andrews spinning, arms wide as her heart at the sound of music alive in every hill and lake and tree.

And that is how it feels to me, during this season of my life — filled with nurture, delight, contentment, not wanting this day to end. The darkness, with which I am so fondly familiar, is today a tender memory that informs this season of light, this autumn dusk with its riot of color above as below. this grasping of (not at) the goodness gleaming in the ground of it all, myself and you, earth and heaven.

Fully aware that darkness will fall and befall one day– distant or near– may this memory of light then be what is carried into that place to inform. But for now, I’ll not go gentle into that good night .

January with Jane – 11. The Contract

The woman who gave me the rosebush

reminds me

“Cut it back hard.”

The stems resist

Thorns and weedy twig-thickets

catch on jacket sleeve, on gloves.

core-wood splinters green under the shears.

Impossible to believe

that so little left will lead to fragrance.

Still, my hands move quickly,

adding their signature branch by branch,

agreeing to loss

_jane Hirshfield

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “From a wisdom perspective, this second Beatitude is talking about vulnerability and flow. When we mourn (not to be confused with complaining or self-pity) we are in a state of freefall, our heart reaching out toward what we have seemingly lost but cannot help loving anyway. To mourn is by definition to live between the realms.

Ken Wilber writes, “Practice the wound of love. Real love hurts; real love makes you totally vulnerable and open; real love will take you far beyond yourself; and therefore real love will devastate you.”

Cynthia again, “Mourning is indeed a brutal form of emptiness. But in this emptiness, if we can remain open, we discover that a mysterious “something” does indeed reach back to comfort us; the tendrils of our grief trailing out into the unknown become intertwined in a greater love that holds all things together. To mourn is to touch directly the substance of divine compassion. And just as ice must melt before it can begin to flow, we, too, must become liquid before we can flow into the larger mind. Tears have been a classic spiritual way of doing this.”

-Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—page 43.

These two writings intertwine in my being this morning. The severe cutting back of hard loss; the tendrils of grief trailing (are they roots reaching for water?) to discover the profound source of Love in which we are rooted. Forever after to remain connected to that source, deeply aware of Love within and enveloping it all. Its so hard to express how this can be to one who has not thus melted, lost all sense of self in the experience of profound suffering and loss. And yet I know there are many who have lost and have not at all been deepened by the experience, merely hardened or forever broken, the grief not met by this saturating experience of Love. I do not know the answer as to why some are ‘blessed’ and others not. And so, I tread gently here, honoring your experience as your own, not valuing mine as higher or better. I can only share that this is how it was for me, as an offering of hope.

Nor will I understate the depths of despair I walked through, how close to the precipice I stepped, the years of anguish and suffering, the longing to lie down and die. I do not know if that is truly how far we must fall in order to be met by those arms reaching out to ours like Michealagelo’s Divine Touch (though not at all so distant and brief a touch, no, it was more like falling into a dark bath of overwhelming Love for me, like hitting a pool of water deep inside the earth of my grief) .

Nor can I believe we consciously can choose it, as Jane suggests (but is not really saying.. read on) in her poem… though perhaps some unknown mystery within us assents to that choice, the wisdom of the soul pulling us there kicking and screaming, until there is no choice but to surrender. The reality is that life itself, filled as it is with unavoidable loss and tragedy, does the pruning, the cutting back hard, if we let it. Perhaps my hands can merely say ,’yes’, when the time comes– to enter that pain heart-fully, to agree to the reality of loss, to cut away what no longer serves in that season of grief –ideas of justice and fairness; old constructs of God; beliefs about what Power can do and what powerlessness means ; control, control, control; perceptions of self; understandings of perfection; what Love looks like (perhaps your learning about Love was conditional or you believed Love was able to prevent pain); ideals about what a good Life looks like; consequential ideas about why/how bad things happen; beliefs about deserving to live without pain and/or shame—-all of these (and you will have your own signature) are subject to that pruning knife.

And what of the green core, the naive center , from which your branches have grown all of these years. It too will be need to be cut– though only enough to reopen your life to a wiser understanding of its goodness, of its wonder, of its mystery, of its remarkable gift, of its blessing even in this, especially in this. My God, it is an exquisite journey.

And oh, the fragrance. The fragrance. The fragrance of that blossom of Love, of knowing oneself as Beloved, of knowing oneself as bearer of Love, of knowing Oneself as a part of Love.

I once dreamt, 22 years ago, when i was still in the midst of that dark forest, that I came upon red roses. I recalled the dream this morning upon reading Jane’s poem. In the dream I was on a journey of sorts, and I kept finding roses — one in the dark forest, one in the fog, one in an icy artic landscape, one in the desert. Roses similar to the ones I had left that year on the graves of the infants I had once carried in my womb, 20 years prior to that, but who did not survive. For, as you may know, one’s current grief brings to the surface all those old griefs, buried within, unrequited.

Anyway, Here is a link to that old piece https://emmaatlast.wordpress.com/2002/03/13/rose/ recording that dream I was given as I was beginning to journey out of that dark place, (in this one their was hope, where there had been none in earlier writings) being met by those tendrils of Love. I like to think today of those random roses like the blossom of a mushroom , all those tendril miles of growth beneath the surface, feeding on the decomposition of my life, pushing upward, to drop themselves unexpectedly upon my forest floor.

January with Jane – 10 Meeting the Light Completely

Even the long-beloved
was once
an unrecognized stranger.

Just so,
the chipped lip
of a blue-glazed cup,
blown field
of a yellow curtain,
might also,
flooding and falling,
ruin your heart.

A table painted with roses.
An empty clothesline.

Each time,
the found world surprises—
that is its nature.

And then
what is said by all lovers:
“What fools we were, not to have seen.”

-Jane Hirshfield

Light glinting off of every surface , bouncing as if from a prism around the room when the sun angles just so through the window, late in the day. Light suddenly revealed, released its usual confinement, like the container of a human body, shattered at the end of a life, in some microcosmic echo of the ‘shattering of the vessels’ that occurred in the beginning of time, when the light poured itself out to become flesh (matter, if that matters to you) , sparks in every atom.

This is the way it is (for me) at a wake, when memories and stories of the departed flood the room (and the rooms of the heart) with light– glinting off of every surface of every bit of shared reflection and spilled remembrance . How each individual present has a bit of the beloved’s story, spilled out over a lifetime, now gathered into one space, the aura surrounding the collective body of the bereaved almost radiant. Mysterious discharge of light at the end, like the blazing tail of a star as it dies. Light made flesh; Flesh made light.

How we see more clearly what was only in a mirror dimly glimpsed, (what fools we were, not to have seen!) the veil of fog lifted for a moment, the way LOVE threaded its way in and through our beloved’s life, the myriad ways Love flowed from our beloved’s life to bless our own , the way that Love offered itself as nourishment in this mysterious communion of this body.

Who knows, perhaps the one who dies will also see clearly how it was, the way their life was about incarnating and bringing Love, making Love Real in this place, the places s/he touched the darkness in another, to set off a tiny explosion of Light (as the physicists have noted occurs even in the subatomic world)*

When that veil lifts, may I be known, not by the things I did. May my “I AM” (or was) not be a litany of roles I performed, not the ‘things’ themselves — the degree earned, the accomplishment fulfilled, the destination attained, the job held–waitress, storekeeper, teacher, artist, doctor, builder— not merely the blue chipped cup, the table painted with roses, or the nothingness of a clanging gong— but the way each one contained something of that Light, how Love itself flowed through those seeming ordinary objects and objectives. May my ‘I AM’ be that She Was a vessel of Love, both filled and poured out by Life.

Infused by Love do we have our being. What fools we are not to have seen

*and as Authors Matthew, Sheila and Dennis Linn have documented in their exploration of near death experiences around the world, the way we are enveloped by Love while being ‘shown’ (hmmm shone?) the places in our lives where the Love that we were made a difference (and of course conversely, while still being utterly held in the indescribable depths of loving compassion, the places we fell short )

January with Jane – 9 – Silk Cord

In the dream the string had broken
and I was trying to
pick out its beads among all others.

The large coral beads,
the beads of turquoise and ivory—
these were not mine.
Carved and ridged with color, burnished, weighty—
my hands passed over them without regret or pause.

The tiny ones,
of glass,
almost invisible against the white cotton bedspread—
these were mine.

The hole in the center
scarcely discernible as different from the bead itself,
the bead around it
scarcely discernible as different from the bed or floor or air—

with trembling fingers
I lifted them
into the jar my other hand cupped closely to one breast.

Not precious, merely glass, almost invisible.
How terrified I was at the thought of missing even one.

While I live, I thought, they are mine to care for.

Then wakened heavy with what I recognized at once
as an entirely warranted grief,

frantic for something plain and clear
and almost without substance,
that I myself had scattered, that I myself must find

-Jane Hirshfield

Lately, I have been dreaming (a lot!) of losing things.* My way. A child. My ability to use a phone. My shoes (forcing me to wear a pair of mismatched shoes, which are not my size, on stage at the pageant) My dress in the clutter of clothing tossed on the dressing room floor. The CD of music that settles the baby to sleep. The barrel of food before a canoe trip. A pen to write down the guest’s order at a restaurant (where I am the only waittress and the coffee is overflowing the pot)

These are not new dreams to me, especially the one where I am driving to a familiar place — sometimes home, sometimes just a place I know well the route , like the proverbial back of my hand, as if the map itself is etched in the life lines there. The dreams, in the end, often make me feel like I’m losing my mind, too. And perhaps that is simply it, the premonitory experience of what it may feel like if/when my brain starts to fail me.

And that makes me wonder, as I think Jane hints at in this poem too, what is it that makes me me. If my brain is no longer able to recall who, what, where I am, who you are, what the object in my hand is, how to find my way, how to read a map, a book, a calendar, a clock, how to wear my clothes, am I still present at all? Is my soul still present in my body, on this earth? Is a brain that which makes me precious? Its contents, the glass beads spilled upon the bed?

I like to think not. And yet I know the vacant stare. Vacant. Unihabited. Deserted. Tenantless. “The light’s off” . Flesh devoid of spark.

Yet, again, I like to think not. Perhaps I revere the body too much, this sacred vessel we inhabit. For me, its not as if the soul is separate from it, housed within it like a guest in some inner room. Rather the soul grows with it, within every light inspired cell, is one with it. As it is embodied also within the patient tree gazing at me from through this window.

Is an animal, with her different kind of consciousness than that of we humans, less present upon this earth? Does memory itself make life more precious?

What makes me, me? You, you? Those glass beads spilled upon the bed, nothing special nor unique– scarcely different than the bed, the room, the air made of the same elemental substances– yet precious the same. Something to be-held , cupped to the breast. Something that is mine to care for, to bear, while I am here.

Is it essence (essential?)? Or is it something more substantial, a substance of a sort. And what if my job is to spill it, after all? Spill it all, out upon the bed where lovers meet and dream. Let those simple beads tumble to the floor to be picked up by another, surprised and curious as to where and how it came to be? Like seeds scattered, not knowing what may grow.

And if at the end of my life, I am thus scattered , like grains strewn across the fields of life, if I have given myself away, that will perhaps be a very good thing. If I can no longer ‘hold it all together’, I like to think of those dropped beads being out there in the world. I think perhaps I need not clutch those beads so fiercely to my breast, but let my heart fly open. Spilled open to it all.

*The psychological and jungian interpretation of these common dreams of mine (evidently losing things or feeling lost is a universal motif) most often suggests to the dreamer that s/he is feeling overwhelmed by something in her life. Well….. perhaps that, too, my loves. Perhaps that too. Overwhelmed by this world’s deep need. Overwhelmed the same, by its beauty.

January with Jane – 8. Balance

Balance is noticed most when almost failed of–

In an elephant’s delicate wavering

on her circus stool, for instance,

or that moment

when a ladder starts to tip but steadies back.

There are, too, its mysterious departures

Hours after the dishes are washed and stacked

a metal bowl clangs to the floor,

the weight of drying water all that altered;

a painting vertical for years

one morning—why?–requires a restoring tap.

You have felt it disappearing

from your own capricious heart—

a restlessness enters, the smallest leaning begins.

Already then inevitable,

the full collision,

the life you will describe afterward always as ‘after’

A few weeks ago I woke, rose to my feet at the edge of the bed, and the floor suddenly slanted like the deck of a small fishing boat in a choppy sea, throwing me to the decks. Regaining my sense of self, I tried again to walk, only to be tossed into the wall this time, this time to hurl over that ship’s gunnel. It was the strangest experience, indescribable really (unless you’ve experienced it too?) , the way my body could no longer feel the pull of gravity in the proper direction. The room tilted this way and that, as did my helpless body, until it brought me at last to my knees, to crawl across the floor, the sobbing rising up from my gut at the sudden disorientation . Only lying perfectly flat and still could the world stop spinning.

Later (after I’d called for help, and we’d conferred with the ambulance personnel who arrived , concurring that this loss of balance was not at all a stroke, but vertigo as we’d guessed), a dose of motion sickness medicine eased the madcapped tilting of this once-flat and steady earth. I could once again rely upon my body (my eyes and proprioceptive sense of my body in space– though not my ears, which house those amazing wonders of cilia swaying in the fluid of its canals, like anenome floating in the sea, to inform my brain which way is up, and which grow their own tiny grains of calcium carbonate rock crystals, which feel the pull of gravity as down, down, DOWN!! not sideways or up!!) It would take several days for those wonders of organic biology to restructure themselves, and restore equilibrium into those rooms that I had somehow inadvertantly thrown into chaos, for the messages from my ears to match the ones from my eyes and my body and allow my confused brain to comprehend the at last reoriented, unmixed messages.

What storm did I set in motion to wreck that tiny universe? That watery microscopic world of wonder suddenly reeling at the onslaught, in what had yesterday been so long a constant that I was utterly unaware of its reality , that it existed within me, taken for granted, an unappreciated life at ease– peaceful, silent and serene.

I close my eyes today and I can feel it, dive down into that watery realm. swim inside that swaying field of grace. Grateful that I have discovered such a place within me, where once there was chaos and destruction. My inner world feels an order even as the one without (outside) reels in seeming disarray, the center of my being holding steady, like the proverbial eye of the storm in the midst.

What does that eye behold, as the world around it spins asunder? And will that eye hold its gaze when my personal life will inevitably will be cast into the tragedies that are built into this life of deep joy and terrible sorrow. It could happen in a moment, like that waking up one day to the world suddenly tossed askew. Like Jane’s metal bowl, or her full collision….

Sometimes I fear i am testing the fates to speak in such a way, as if there is some hubris that will be flattened within me. And yet, still, still (that inner stillness being operative here) I hold out hope that what is deepest within me might not be shaken…. that tiny crystal grown beautiful enough inside of me to reflect light even in the darkness to come.

I wait for the shoe to drop….. no, not eagerly, not inviting it, no… but with apprehension, if i am honest. Am I ripe enough to be tested by that knife? The ladder tipped that morning as I awakened to the fear that this might be something serious –my life direction set off upon another course in a heartbeat– before the world righted itself. Meanwhile my friend’s life shifted cataclysmically in the same breadth of a heartbeat as her own beloved’s life crashed to the floor, never to stand up and walk again.

Is there is something reliable within me, which I this day I trust (in the hubris of my world being relatively stable) will still and forever-after be there, regardless. Is it truly now a part of me, this core soul steadiness, as i believe it to be, this deep ‘All is Well’ even when ‘all is not well’? A well-spring within which those sea grasses sway. Consolation even in desolation. The potential to dwell in both worlds at once, the terrible grief, the equally terrible beauty.

My friend says that the grief so flattened her in those first days that she could not go for a walk without someone helping her, holding her up, her sense of feeling held by those who love her in her very bones…. the way that Don held me upright on that day when my world was shaken asunder. It sometimes takes the other to assist us until we restore balance…. balance between tragedy and joy, between ‘all is not well’ and ‘All is Well’— is restored.

Precarious balance, reliant at times upon the tiniest of crystals growing within.

And this trivial treatise, of course, speaks nothing of Jane’s (my own) simply restless heart. Can I trust, also, in my heart’s deep contentment with Life As It Is, without requiring the spector of catyclysm (nor ecstasy of miracle!). In the ordinary, the unchanging, the stillness of even stagnant water, might I draw from a deeper source. Need I the approach the spector of tragedy at all in order to know life as precious, as it is, here.

and Now.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: