Reckoning & Delight 2
I’ve been dragging my feet to write this installment for several weeks. Funny what deadlines and funding will do to your desire to procrastinate.
First things first. My dad was diagnosed with cancer a couple weeks ago. He would not want me to write about this in such a public way. I know this, so I did not ask his permission, but I will do what I can to respect his wishes for privacy. I will not write the details or intimate moments that deserve to be kept within our family’s hearts and minds, but I will share my own experience here.
When I set out this project, I intended to write and share what I am reckoning with and where I am delighting as a way to authentically lift up my experience using creating and story to move through tribulation.
I mean, in a year like 2020, what was I thinking? It feels a bit like tempting fate, right?
I could have written about a plethora of other things this week, things that weigh heavily on my mind—division, the threats to democracy, the pandemic and the unwillingness of humans to sacrifice their comfort for the lives of others—but that would be taking the easy route, and I’m not one for that, mostly ever.
I’ve been trying to organize my musings around this as a writer would and I am finding that exceedingly difficult, mostly because sentences and grammar fail me at the moment. And so, I suppose this the place where I surrender to the process and ask you to trust that this process of musing leads to something, even if it does not seem evident at the moment, when in fact I am not actually sure that it does lead anywhere.
That is, I think, the crux of my reckoning.
What if all the practices and places I rely on as path to healing are just crap? And then here I am, allowing the internet to witness the black hole of my loss of faith?
My inboxes have been overflowing with messages of concern and support, and for that I am grateful. I am held by my community. “Pray for his health and strength” “I hold your family in love and light.” I try to join those prayers, to step into the circles of light, but I find myself an empty vessel.
Despite being raised around the Catholic tradition that involved praying twice a day and more on Sundays and holidays, the practice of talking to God never made sense to me. I had no problem believing in ghosts or Santa Claus, but I couldn’t quite be convinced that there was a being that created everything and could answer my prayers.
As an adult I’ve explored a number of spiritual traditions that made sense to me in theory, but in practice felt just as empty. I feel some shame in this, as though the part of me that finds comfort in faith is broken.
When I was a teenager and confessed my lack of faith, my dad was agog. How can you look around at all this beauty and not believe in a creator, he asked? At the time I just shrugged, unconcerned. I’m concerned now, because I suspect there is something I am missing. That is missing from me.
I wrote this a few days after Dad told me the news:
The moments when my eyelids are lowered during each blink are infinitely longer now.
Days pass in those dark moments.
The light feels pushy
And hard, so I’ll stay here in the downy embrace of the dark
A while longer.
Those extra milliseconds add up.
Days pass with fewer blinks.
When things go pear shaped, everyone wishes love and light.
I want to tell them to keep the light,
If you love me, you’ll come here into
The dark with me and let it’s mystery soothe.
If you love me you’ll put the light away for
The times I feel the most light and joyful are when I am moving in the woods. I run or walk with my dogs outside in the solace of open space every day. When I am running, I am to immersed in my breathing, listening to my footfalls, the way my hamstring tightens and begs for a stretch to be anything but absolutely present. I can’t manage to think about past or future and breathe and stay upright all at the same time. I count each time my foot hits the ground and watch the tracks in the snow beside me. The heart shaped hoof of a deer, the turkey track that looks a bit like a peace sign, the caterwaul of bunny tracks that make me thing of a rabbit party, a massacre or a Watership Down-style mass exodus.
I was walking along a ridgeline overlooking the St. Croix River in the cold mist this morning, wondering. I love late fall and winter in the woods, when everything is dormant and yet the signs of life are so blatant and true. I asked myself, if prayer and light don’t ring your bell, what on earth do you believe in?
This is when I got nervous. What if I have faith in the act of creation, the necessity of shadow to balance light, the paradoxical simplicity and convolution of nature that is so much larger than the human mind and ego can contain? What if that’s all bullshit?
My dad would also frown on cursing in a piece of writing (and at the dinner table), and he would probably be founded in that. Sorry, Dad.
Dad built furniture for a living before the first bout of cancer nudged (or booted) him into early retirement. Growing up, one of my jobs was to type the words he neatly printed on notepaper while sitting in a moment of quiet at the workbench, likely with a cup of coffee and an oatmeal cookie in hand. The writings were artists statements, the philosophy of his work and why it was meaningful. I remember how he ruminated on the majestic beauty of the walnut trees native to our Central Missouri home, and how he felt a responsibility to use his skill to give those fallen trees new life in a piece of furniture. The spirit of the tree lived on.
Maxine Hong Kingston said “in times of destruction, create something.”
Maybe my faith and belief are a result in absorbing those musings, which says a lot for my dad’s writings and not a lot for years of Catholic education.
A friend asked me how I thought art could heal. “Isn’t it a little presumptuous, arrogant even, to think your art can heal someone else?” She asked. Yes, one hundred times yes. And yet… and yet…
I think that creating is a balm to our own scuffs, scratches and deep wounds. And through that healing, maybe we open a door for someone else. Maybe not. Time will tell.
When I was jogging the other day, I stopped when I heard the shriek of a hawk overhead. I looked around at the deep dark sky, the white birches on the horizon and the shorn golden cornfields and thought I’d like to make something in those colors, because I couldn’t think of a way to accurately capture the intensity and stillness with words. I listened for the hawk song again and then saw her swoop from the copse of trees nearby and scoop up her prey. I shivered at the stark reality of nature on display, the life and death, survival and rebirth, violence and sustenance all tied intimately into one moment.
That is where I found solace.