There I stood again, so dumbfounded I am certain that my mouth was agape, as my mind searched in a panic, rifling through so many blank pages for an answer. Though the question was asked slightly differently, I was just as caught off guard as I’d been for all those years when it was posed that other way, ‘What do you DO?’ (for a living –‘career’ implied). This time, innocently proposed, the children’s nature hike leader attempting to use the adults in the assemblage to illustrate the ways in which all living (and even nonliving) beings in the forest neighborhood have a job to do, she turned to me and asked, ‘What is your job?’
‘Oh, I’m retired’, I stammered. (wait, is that even true? or is that simply one more place that I have hitched myself to the coattails of a man – my husband retired 4 years ago – has that become my easy out? – though I never had a career to ‘retire’ from – oh there I go still discounting all those years of devotion to the art of motherhood)
‘Oh, but surely you still have a job to do. Everybody has a job!’
Back home, I rehearsed all the responses I might have given… each one of them so soft and indistinct, they may as well have been an abstract watercolor, those free-flowing works of art where the water and the pigment seem to be given rein to do their own thing, without boundaries or structure or any sense of control, outside of the artist’s command.
Seer of Beauty.
Seeker of Wisdom
Lover of Earth
Payer of attention
I thought of Mary Oliver’s ‘Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Harrumph. What is the purpose of a life such as that, what ‘job’ does it perform for the neighborhood?
A friend supplied me with this one – ‘Guardian’ – ( she also gave me ‘Caregiver’ but I have been desperately trying to escape that!) because I suppose this is who I am for her, the space I hold in her life. Back to that image of Indra’s net flew my heart, to the assuaging notion that each of us is to simply be who we are, to hold our bejeweled knot in the web.
Guardian of the Sacred? Perhaps. That seems like it could be a ‘real’ job in the neighborhood after all. A Doing Something Job. A Tangible Job. A Needed job.
I realize that perhaps the first place that requires my sacred guardianship is my own value. Is my worth dependent upon what I can do for others? Or is there something inherently sacred about my own life, regardless of my role? And might there be something profoundly sacred about the lifeforce contained in hope or the energy of a dream?
I have been feeling diminished lately, not quite desecrated, but definitely unseen. When something is not seeable, it is far easier to forget that you are walking on sacred ground. Choices are made that don’t honor the inherent dignity nor take the essential welfare (not to mention, thriving) of the other into account. I wonder if all beings start screaming a little louder for attention when they are about to get stepped on.
You see, my anger has been acting out lately. Actually, for years now I have felt myself to be in an almost constant state of rebellion, fighting determinedly to survive, not to surrender to the crushing, striving valiantly to hold on to some sense of self –self-agency, self-determination, self-direction, self-worth. Instead I have felt my life so very much out of my own of control, as if I am utterly powerless to move it in the direction I seek it to go, as if it is flowing haphazardly in response to opposing external stimuli, its color helplessly altered by a drop of red spreading out on the wet canvas.
Alternately angered and then aggrieved, it seems the choices of others continually alter my own. Of course, I realize that on some level, it is my choice to acquiesce, and most often that choice stems from love. I am a relational being, after all, and when one of those jewels in the web nearby me pull, I come naturally attached. We all affect one another with each move that we make, I suppose. The birth of (8) grandbabies, the retirement of a spouse, his choice of a second avocation, a year and a half of orthopedic surgeries, the pulling of our hearts in opposite directions, the ‘settling’ into a new home, the saying ‘no’ to a dream. Cancelled plans. Altered visions. Diminished dreams.
Then there are the tangible everyday pulls, tugging loose my guilt and fear-of-missing-out from the sweater I wrap around myself to keep out the cold and keep myself contained. Beneath that false guilt, I realize that these everyday pulls nag at my heart because I understand that each moment shared is an opportunity to nurture relationship, and I continually feel as if I am letting someone down. A birthday party. A baptism. A grandparent’s day. An invitation to lunch. A daughter’s phone call. A yoga weekend with a friend. A son’s unexpected weekend visit. A mother’s decline. A dance/violin/gymnastics/piano recital. A daddy-daughter camping trip. A neighborhood need. A sister’s walk. A beloved’s recognition reception. A relationship here. A relationship there.
A nature walk.
The stuff of ordinary life, each one attached to my heart. Each one a seeming obstacle on my path, altering the course I have longed to set for myself, to that elusive Sacred Lake, where I might find myself in the reflection, or be stirred awake by an inner passion, or even be held in stillness beneath the ice. To my own true North, where I feel my own sense of self, grounded, centered and rooted, come alive, I long to flow.
I write this morning with green ink. My husband bought a new box of pens for me because he knows I prefer the Ultra Round Stix roller pens. I like the feel of the pen in my hand, the way the roller glides across the page, allowing my thoughts to flow easefully from my heart through my hand. Nevermind that the store didn’t have any blue ones left. I hadn’t asked him to go purchase them, but he had seen. Who knows, perhaps my eyes will grow accustomed to the muted pastel flowing across the page. Perhaps it might even become a signature of mine. Become a longtime companion made from ‘making do’, receiving a gift of love even when it feels like a compromise, from letting go of control. Become a watercolor wash of beauty.
Though something deep within my spirit longs for my life as a lake – contained, secluded, and bounded, still and deep, quiet and reflective, perhaps I am destined to be a river, and not such an old river at that. Not at all ancient or wise or even wide, but quite young, narrowly twisting and turning around obstacles along my way. Unable to carve my way through the huge boulders of granite left behind when the glacier retreated, or through the upheaval of my own bedrock, my path is altered on its way.
Perhaps life never flows in a straight line, after all, it is always more organic than that, dynamic, continuously changing … ceaselessly slipping through our open hands. Like this ink from my pen, my own life continues to flow from my heart, though it looks not at all like I’d envisioned it might on the page.
Oh, I don’t know. I only know that when I check in with my heart, it feels at peace in that other, quieter place. It feels like it can see itself there, and to be seen is to know oneself as Sacred. To be seen is to be Guardianed. My heart does not feel at home in the river. Always distracted. Never focused long enough to deepen. Constantly running. Forever catching up. Never quiet.
What is a woman to do?
So much latent in me, longing. A friend emails breathtaking photographs , images that tug at my soul, instinctively drawing my hand to my heart. There is that yearning in me, too, to follow that love of the lens of my own eye, forever undeveloped in me. I read a few essays that likewise draw my hand, my heart, my tears, at the beauty and tenderness, presence and pain revealed and expressed, contained by those words on the page, my own story forever unwritten in me.
Except in this blessed journal, where it flows green (though I yearn even here to be blue), like those abstract watercolors, unstructured, uncontrolled, uncensored, pastel and vague. Hinting at something unnamed and yearning to be seen. Though it appears that I also have no control over my life, perhaps it can still be a thing of beauty.
Something sacred. Worth guarding.
In the forest neighborhood, those trees that are rooted, unable to move from where they are stuck, are greening. The children were asked what the job of the Tree was. Their answers – shelter and shade- were diverted quickly away by the sight of a salamander under an upturned log, but I knew the true answer to that one. She is the primary gatherer of the light, transformer of that primal energy into something green that can offer nurture to all other life forms in this vast web.
I wonder if she ever wonders what it would be like to be blue….