12th October 2015
I have no idea what to write about today, I only know I need to feel the comfort of my little fountain pen scratch its way towards something hitherto unknown by me. The day has a distinctly autumnal Monday feel about it: sweet/sad, and inevitable. Like many an October day it has gone from brilliant sun to the kind of still grey that suspends time and which, if not careful, can beckon one towards sadness. This I do not want. I am banishing sadness to its rightful place in the corner of the soul.
Instead, I invite joy and curiosity: 2 states that so often go hand in hand. What comes to mind, as it so often has in the weeks since Joel’s brother died, is a video of Naomi Shihab Nye reciting a poem, the body of which is made up of quotes from her once 3 year-old son. www.pbs.org/wgbh/poetryeverywhere/nye.html
My friend Larry turned me on to this poet and what struck me when I first watched this video, and what has stayed with me ever since, is the journey from the wide-eyed wonder of childhood to the tunnel vision of adulthood that so many of us take. In so many instances this journey has us acquiring unsolicited baggage, which we too often agree to lug around for the rest of our lives at the cost of letting go of joy and curiosity. And so we proceed, keeping a tight grip on the handle of history, personal and universal. And I wonder why we refuse to learn the important lessons of the latter type of history, like for example the fact that war solves nothing, while refusing to relinquish our belief in the stories of our personal history; stories which do nothing to further our spiritual evolution.
I plead guilty to this, myself. I would have to say this year has offered me many opportunities to not only continue lugging around old baggage, but that I too often opened the lid and itemized the contents. Fortunately, some of them had long disappeared, leaving only dust in the corners. But I did manage to find enough poor-me vestments that still fit. What must I have looked like traipsing around in the shabby if coordinated garments of shame and failure? And I tell you what, I reckon there was lead sewn into every hem because although I’ve discarded them I’m still exhausted from having worn their burden for much too long.
The challenge now is to find the joy in surrendering to exhaustion. So far I’ve managed to breakfast in bed, wear knickers on my head, nap in broad daylight, ask my husband to make me laugh and soaked in hot, herbal baths. Yesterday, visited by a sudden burst of energy I agreed to take one of our favorite walks. We were rewarded with discovering what must be the last fig tree still bearing fruit in this season and stood in sun-drenched joy eating a couple of figs each, their jeweled insides dribbling moisture down our chins. We were reminded of a rainy autumn day some 15 years ago when we stood, in the rain, under an enormous fig tree on the estate where we used to teach. We were in such bliss standing in boot-sucking mud gorging ourselves on enough figs to function as a high colonic. It was a good ten minutes before we realized we were standing next to a sty of pigs likewise grunting and chomping on the fruit they had been bequeathed by overhanging branches of that enormous tree. Now that’s joy, feasting on figs with pigs.
Not wishing to repeat the intestinal cleansing experience, we left yesterday’s tree and strolled between olive trees, wild rosemary and berry-laden hawthorn, the whole Val D’Arbia at our feet.
On the way back we eyed that fig tree again. It seemed a shame to waste the remaining dozen figs. We had no basket so I took Joel’s kerchief and summoning the spirit of Dick Wittington, tied the fruit-filled cloth to a stick and slung it over my shoulder.
And there were more treasures in store. Two little ferns called out to us from a muddy bank, “Take us home,” they cried. And we did, digging them in on the north side of our old outbuilding which once housed pigs! How perfect!
Talking about history, tomorrow will be 25 years since I broke my neck. For the last 2 weeks I have been experiencing pain in my thumbs and arms. Some of this has to do with too much gardening, but I think the recent increase in pain has to do with 2 kinds of history, the first being cellular. In the moments, 25 years ago, when I saw the inevitability of my little sports car colliding with a 4 wheel drive vehicle – at 50 mph – I braced myself. That is to say, I clung to the steering wheel at the same time that I was trying to push myself back, away from the collision, so that my arms were locked straight. The impact travelled up my arms sheering the nerves and fracturing vertebrae C5 and C6. So it makes sense to me that my body is remembering this incident and is therefore bracing itself.
The other type of history is one I mentioned earlier…the one that records events from childhood and braces against their possible recurrence in adulthood. For me that would entail bracing myself against unkindness and failure, both of which have had repeat turns in the spotlight this year.
Obviously it is time to remedy this. There is a great difference and distance between wide-eyed childhood and tunnel-vision adulthood. Yet the root is the same. Whether we are children or adults we are essentially “us.” As such we have the choice, as adults, to remember the essential self, the self that as a 3 year-old was perhaps easier to access, but which is ready to be embraced at any moment. Likewise the difference and distance between bracing and embracing, the root of both coming from the latin bracchia, meaning ‘arms.’ Like much else in life, what we choose do with our arms is up to us.