When I said “I don’t want to write,” I may have been telling only part of the story. Another part indicates the opposite is true. A third says I’m lazy. This laziness is compounded in times of enhanced guardedness, times when I am reluctant to share my thoughts or even to explore them myself. This is not one of those times. What follows are some journal excerpts for the month of March.
“When the Lord God did not call my name, I might have called his name—but I did not. There you have the difference between greatness and mediocrity. It’s not an uncommon disease. But it’s nice for a mediocre man to know that greatness must be the loneliest state in the world.”
Samuel Hamilton in East of Eden
Spring. We set our clocks forward tonight and nature has spent the day dropping heavy hints. Straight narrow blades of thick dark grass pierce through earth into air, which is warm and windy. These will soon surround bright yellow daffodil blossoms. One of Kentucky’s most brilliant indicators of seasonal shift. Birds are exultant and fat squirrels shake off their lethargy to hop across open spaces in search of new food sources. Patches of delicate, pale purple flowers are cast across the grass like throw rugs. I’m sitting at a picnic table on campus. The sun is low. From the building behind me I can hear a faltering but rich melody; a student is practicing piano.
Sitting atop the East Pinnacle with L…we talked about the various ways that we respond to coincidence; sometimes trying to find the secret signs and meanings, sometimes just sitting back in amusement. During the silence that followed, I looked over the distant littleness of Berea and the wide wild expanse of hills and valleys and ragged winter forest that surrounded it. I mulled over the other part of my conversation with A [ about the death and new life of moving from one place to another—wondering what reincarnation of me would present herself in Chicago.], understanding that to a large degree the me that will arrive in this new place is largely a matter of choice. It is a rare, priceless opportunity. As I present myself to a new place and new people, who do I want to be?
There’s a bright full moon tonight and I was wishing I could just lie back and look at it instead of having to drive my car home from Jackson County. I could go gaze at it now, but my body feels so tired, nothing outweighs the appeal of being stretched across my bed wearing loose light clothes…Mitch Barrett was playing at AJ this evening and his music, as usual, draws me deep. There’s magic in that man’s art. My thoughts were many but primarily I’m being kept in mind of D. “…she wasn’t born to waste, she had to develop the taste,” is a recurring line in a song Mitch wrote…I felt the stories of all the Healing Rain women; those stories I’ve made them write not once, but twice over the courts of their stay, the stories I see them act out day after day…D said writing hers brought up all sorts of negative feelings. Looking back, all she was a waste. Some women pointed out she had her daughter. I said something feeble about her now having a unique perspective. I meant it, but I hate that I said it—filling the silence, putting a band aid on a bruise—knowing all the while that I saw the waste too. The heart-breaking, bewildering waste of a beautiful life.
I keep thinking about this and mulling over how I could have responded, how we can respond when encountering these things in ourselves or others. I cannot think of a way to look back and make the bad things good. Valuable perhaps, as lessons, but not good. The good can only come in present awareness and future creation. That is where D’s gift comes in. She can look at her life and see what it has been and what she would have liked for it to be. D can look back with the perspective of today; a perspective grounded in life as a treasure, recognition of responsibility—she can see that there was something to be wasted. Whereas, those who’ve lived in relative ease with little disruption sit heavy on their eggs, crushing what was meant to be hatched. Not to say we need disaster in our lives to truly live, but something that’s what it takes to wake up.
Morning. The tree outside my window is budding!
In East of Eden, when contemplating the meaning behind the story of Cain and Abel, Lee has an epiphany. He realizes that the story is about rejection and man’s response to being overlooked in his quest for love and approval…I read this over a week ago and, while I felt it deeply then I’ve only just begun to think about it. Looking at the stories of the Old Testament through the lens of Lee’s revelation, I can see this theme of rejection and response cropping up everywhere. Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, David and Saul—the party that wields the sought after love varies, but the primary elements remain. One is chosen over the other for reasons appearing, for the most part, to be entirely arbitrary. While this seems utterly unfair, does a lover not have the right to choose a beloved and is it not possible that this is true with God as well? In any case, that part is not a thing that can be changed or controlled. As with HR classes, the story shows that we can’t make anyone feel anything, that’s up to them. Freedom comes though in the next step, acknowledging that in the same way that we don’t have control over other’s feelings, neither do they have control of ours. Hence, timshel, “Thou Mayest.”
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto Thee shall be his desire, and thou mayest rule over him” -God to Cain
“…the word timshel—thou mayest—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man.”
- Lee, in East of Eden
I don’t want to be a cynic. “I want my heart back,” an inner voice whimpered; creatively remembering an innocent, hopeful, believing heart. I’ve always been receptive to cynicism though, identifying it in others and reaching my arms out to wrap it in an embrace even as a decried it. Cynicism is safe. Eventually you come out on top, life proves you right. Every battle that you win though brings you closer to losing the war. Maybe it’s not better or worse to think one way or another, it only brings you to different results…This morning’s meditation on the same old words lit a fresh angle:
“…If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong…if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but
have not love, I am nothing.”
“I want to go back,” I started thinking but was corrected and redirected by what I would call the Holy Spirit,
“You can’t go back (and if you could, it’s not what you’re thinking), there is only forward—but you can choose what you will bring with you.”
---Timshel, “Thou Mayest”---
Skepticism has its place; turning stones and revealing new truths. Cynicism though, I believe it closes more doors than it opens. It asphyxiates the spirit.
During meditation this morning (and this is so silly, but it touched me) I had an impression of Jesus, bending down and reaching out – like Aladdin on his magic carpet to Jasmine – asking, “do you trust me?” And oh, how I wanted to take his hand!
…I was reminded of The Poisonwood Bible, the part where the sisters are touring a temple and the guide explains some of the religious rituals that basically amounted to massacre. The tour guide pronounced the barbarism of the race, while one sister pondered, perhaps this was a survival skill in a region where sustenance was scarce, and she questioned the ethics or her own role as a doctor. K and I went on to consider, if all of the men and women who died in wars and other acts of cruelty or neglect had lived and had children—would the earth be able to sustain us? Do we need wars? Do we need the elimination of individuals in the present for the sake of the survival of the species throughout the future?
I told K that I ask God everyday to teach me to love. Some days I have the heavy feeling that the best way to love is not the kind that brings warm fuzzys and that tough love goes beyond telling a child she can’t have a piece of candy. It’s a thought that challenges and sometimes frightens me. I want my love to feel good. Bother to me and to those who receive it. Here, K, beautiful big-hearted K, interjected. She said, even recognizing this argument, she could never go against her feelings and support a war or any kind of killing. Nor could I, I conceded, but I’m not confident that I could fight convincingly against them either.
Then, one of us brought up natural disasters—is what happens naturally not enough to maintain the balance?
K made an interesting point; if we were not destroying each other, as the human race expanded would the earth not more naturally assert herself, express her boundaries—swallowing us in water, withering us in drought, ravaging us with disease—we could experience the natural consequences of withdrawing earth’s resources, of living, rather than bearing the weight of another’s death. Anxious to take on the power of God, we crush ourselves beneath a responsibility impossible to understand or bear...
It rained steadily through the night and into morning. A light drizzle continued into afternoon. I went for a jog. The air was damp and hung heavy with the smell of earthworms that stretched across the pavement.
While chopping lettuce for future lunches, I recalled something I’d thought of while driving home from work. I decided to say it aloud to A.
“I don’t know why I started thinking this,” I began, “…it occurred to me that my growing romantic skepticism runs parallel with my religious skepticism…faith seems to require believing something and then building a life around it, much the same as romance involves feeling something and then building a life around it…”
…I did not tell her, I didn’t even remember until now, my minds rolling about the word “believe.” Focusing on the letters that begin it: b-e. What you believe is most accurately revealed not through what you say but what you do. So, to believe something is to be it. To be something requires a series of complementary thoughts, feelings and actions. These I identify as being a matter of choice. Is a belief a choice? I think so. As such, can it change without losing its validity or diminishing its value? I don’t know. In the past, I think I would have said, “No.” In the past, I also believed I’d feel romantic love for one man only and that I would love him until my dying day, even if it was unrequited. And so I move most of my beliefs to the shift but not altogether unwelcoming house of doubt.
All this from a girl who yesterday morning sat cross-legged on a porch swing and felt the pull to commit her heart to the Creator for keeps. The subtle greatness of sisterhood is never allowed to travel far from me before I call, “Wait! Stay where I can see you!” (Followed by a whispered, “but don’t come any closer!”) Processing the idea a little, I thought that one of my dominating inhibition regarding relationships is a reluctance to become too involved in one thing lest there be something (calling, person, place) greater—what could be greater though than a commitment to be eternally devoted to the God of the Universe? No wonder such a notion would beckon me, and that it would call all the louder in times of uncertainty.