Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Poetic women and muscular birds

I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We're here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don't have time to carry grudges; you don't have time to cling to the need to be right.
--Anne Lamott

It snowed last night. It was the wet stuff, the kind that perches on anything that will stand still, making doilies out of the trees: the perfect backdrop for the cardinals at Beloved's feeder. What a gift to discover that scene as I peered over my yogurt this morning, especially since I'm a little bit anxious at present. I'm in a situation that has abraded some emotional scar tissue...hearing an echo of my heart at its most broken, reminded of a time in the not-so-distant past when I was most decidedly Not At My Best.

The difference, this time, is that I am older, wiser and less invested in my own need to be right. I'm better at taking care of myself, this time around; though this is a stressful situation, I'm finding that I'm not unhinged by it as I was last time. I truly am hearing an echo, instead of experiencing the pain afresh. That's helpful. That little cardinal this morning was able to give some of my baggage a good shove, too; he was surprisingly strong. :-)

I think Anne Lamott is right, and most of the time it's reasonably easy for me to keep track of the beauty in my life; it is abundant, and I'm richly blessed. And yet...sometimes it just isn't possible or appropriate to dance. One of my dear ones is in that place right now. She's been in a chronically painful situation for some months, and though she's moved out of harm's way, there is substantial grief, anger and loss with which she must grapple on her way back to the dance. And the best the rest of us can do is to say, "Talk, and we'll listen. Cry, and we'll hold your hand. Wait for this to pass, and just keep breathing in and out, because the music is still playing. You'll be able to enjoy it again, once that roaring in your ears stops."

My friend is not religious, but we seem to just get one another anyway. The part of me that lives in theological language lives poetically in her, and she has a lovely, honest, artistic spirit that inspires and enriches me. Further, she is a deeply kind and generous soul, whom I know to be resilient. She has faced down larger beasts than this one and survived...flourished.

She reminds me of another wise woman/poet to whom I got to listen last week: Maya Angelou appeared at Orchestra Hall, and Beloved and I went to hear her. She told a number of her own stories, read from her work, and best of all, she sang to us. It went straight to my church musician's heart that the thematic thread tying the evening together was her repeated refrain of "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." She told us about the little bits of other people's light that have illumined her own darknesses. She called out the light in each of us and reminded us of our imperative as human beings to blow on those sparks, for all our sakes.

It was a little bit of the bright Epiphany season, interpolated into somber Lent. Luminous. Powerful. Brimming with hope. And this piece of Maya's light is with me still:

Don't carry with you unforgiveness.
Refuse to pay its passage.
As soon as is possible, let it go.

And so I can say to my friend with some assurance that she will find her way through this particular wilderness, because I've been there, too--and my light did not die out. I can keep reminding her that the anger and sadness and screaming injustice she's experiencing at this moment will not define the rest of her days. I can point her toward the day, not too long from now, when she'll be able to offload that heavy cargo...when something as small and bright and fleet as a bird will help with the heavy lifting, bringing her back to the dance.

Emily Dickinson was right: hope is the thing with feathers.

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