Light Every Candle That You Can

16 03 2017

Lately, too many days have followed this pattern:

I wake from a dead sleep, struggle to untangle myself from the sheet and blanket on my bed and stumble to the bathroom to get ready for the day. As I drive to work, I am angry at every other driver for,,,existing, apparently. I jump into work like a kid jumping into the deep end of the pool before actually learning to swim – after a long, breathless time, I paddle and flail my way up for air. The day is gone.

I drive away from work listening to my brain argue with itself about stopping at the gym. The days I stop are the good ones. Many nights I lie to myself that I will trade the workout for a productive night at home, checking many items off the needed-to-do-last-week list (and I always believe that lie, despite all evidence to the contrary).

At home, I check the news while my dinner cooks. I give up any thought of productivity, as the day’s latest atrocities suck my energy into the waiting ocean of anger and despair. I take my dinner upstairs and eat while watching The Voice or This Is Us or, God help me, The Match Game. Whatever. I play a jigsaw puzzle game on my Kindle until I fall asleep. Sometime later, midnight or one, I wake up. Stiff from sleeping upright, I get ready for bed.

But I don’t sleep when I get there. I try reading a book. The good ones are the ones I can concentrate on long enough to fall into the story. Some nights, that just won’t happen. I lie awake and try to breathe through the ambient anxiety. Or I open social media on my phone and, before you know it, two hours have passed. I finally fall asleep again, not only worried, but truly heartsick. I dream chaotic or stressful or lovely dreams. In the morning they are all jumbled together, and I try to tease them apart, parse them like an obtuse sentence. When my alarm sounds, I tell myself not to get up, “Just lie here (warm and comfortable and thoughtless)…just a little while longer”. And I do.

Until I have to get up and the whole thing repeats itself.

This past week, on Sunday evening, I had tickets to see Carrie Newcomer perform. I had to fight the inertia of Sunday night, plus a winter weather advisory, just to get myself in the car. Once at the venue, my friend Molly joined me. We chatted until the lights went down and Carrie and her accompanist came onstage.

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

I felt like Carrie’s first words described where I have been living – bewildered, in the darkness.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still

And I was. Weeping in the dark auditorium, I felt, for the first time in a while, not quite so alone in my despair. The whole world (not just me) weeps. And then:

Though shaken I still believe
the best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.
I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer ” Love”

There have been songs written about this experience of sitting in a theater or a bar, listening to a stranger whose song articulates what has been living, unarticulated, in the listener’s heart. Carrie’s words spoke directly out of my heart – and I am certain that she chose this opener for me. Because a gifted artist knows her audience, and those of us gathered that night were all in need of a blessing. We are all part of the weeping world, but, yes – still believing in what words like courage and love stand for; believing in the promise of the “beautiful not-yet”*

Later, after the concert, Molly and I walked to our cars, arm-in-arm, through swiftly falling snow. The crystal flakes landing on my upturned face felt like a benediction, their melting a baptism. Washed clean of my wretchedness, I was ready to follow Carrie’s exhortation, and hold the promise in my heart:

 

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of god will gather in
Every sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

 

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Note: Carrie Newcomer’s opening song, lyrics quoted above, was “I Heard An Owl”. You can listen to it here: https://youtu.be/MyD632qIww0 . Carrie’s songs are amazing, a balm to my weary soul.

* “The beautiful not-yet” is the title to another of Carrie’s songs.





Circling Out of the Dark

26 05 2016

“Dispiritedness and disappointment are the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday.” – Lance Armstrong

The spiritual geniuses of the ages and of the everyday simply don’t let despair have the last word, nor do they close their eyes to its pictures or deny the enormity of its facts. They say, “Yes, and …,” and they wake up the next day, and the day after that, to live accordingly.”  — Krista Tippett

 

Whether we are spiritual geniuses or not, we cannot let despair (dispiritedness, disappointment) have the last word, even when we feel like we’ve hit it hard; even when we feel as shattered as if we crashed into a brick wall going ninety miles an hour.

I know this is true – but like many important truths, it is taking me a lifetime to understand.

Harry Chapin, the singer-storyteller, wrote “All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown/The moon rolls through the nighttime, till the daybreak comes around/All my life’s a circle and I can tell you why/The season’s spinnin’ round again the years keep rollin’ by/It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when/But I got this funny feelin’ that I’ll be back once again…”

I think his image of life as a circle of experiences that keep coming around is an excellent one. I visualize it in varying ways:

     

What each of these images have in common is that they keep circling back. Whether this process plays in an endless loop (like the infinity symbol), keeps circling ever inward toward more precise understanding (like the nautilus), or keeps ascending toward higher levels of experience (like the upward spiral), is a matter of discernment. For today, it is enough for me to remember that repetition is part of the learning process.

Sometimes, I think I should know things already. Things like: my thoughts impact my mood; what others say or think about me is only their perspective, not holy truth; I should never eat two breakfast burritos when one will suffice. And I DO know these things. I just don’t always remember to act in accordance with what I know. The resulting consequence is that I get the opportunity to relearn the basics, each time with added nuances of realization and/or understanding.

I know, that sounds like an awfully positive spin on the “d-words” (dispirited, disappointed, despairing) when the experience of any one of them feels pretty crappy. If I’ve allowed myself to dwell in one or more for any length of time, it gets harder to climb back up into the sunlight of positude. Recently, for example, I became aware of just how dispirited and low I have felt for a while. It had set in and taken hold for so long, I had forgotten that it was not just the natural way people feel. Then I started noticing how often my thoughts flowed along these lines: “My life sucks!” “Why can’t just one thing, one little thing, go right?” “This can’t be what I went through all that for!” Every day, not only were those thoughts there, but so were the clouds of depression and, even, despair.

Then I remembered that I know how to address this: I can change my thinking.  As soon as I started consciously changing my thoughts, things began to change. My whole life hasn’t been dramatically recreated, but it feels a whole lot better. Turns out, re-learning what I already knew feels like a gift. Like sunshine after months of clouds. Like true friendship after long, lonely days. Like meeting my future self and discovering that she’s pretty wise, if she let’s herself be! Today won’t be perfect, and neither will tomorrow. But both days will feel a lot better than any two random days last month, because I will be thinking “I’ve got this.”

And so it is when we circle back around. The everyday spiritual genius hiding within each of us can finally say, “Yes, and…”; can finally allow our inner resources (as opposed to our feared deficits or perceived brokenness) to choose our way forward. Suddenly, we’re circling out of that “D”arkness, into the light of a new day.

 

 

 

 

 

 





The Best and Worst of Times

23 01 2014

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”   (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

As an English major, a lover of literature, and a fan of Charles Dickens, the line quoted above has long been familiar to me. It is one of a handful of first lines of classic literature (including the openers to Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina) often cited as superlative examples of how to draw a reader in from the first word. While Dickens’ line is far from short, it is wise – capturing the idea that every age in human history can, and likely will, be described in this manner.

Not to worry, I haven’t suddenly started blogging literary criticism. I have been thinking of this line, not in the context of the larger world and global forces, but in the context of my own life right now. In some ways, this is truly the best of times: I am discovering new people, places and passions. I am realizing the depth of love and friendship in my life, which is both humbling and energizing. However, in other ways, this is also the worst of times: I feel worried and anxious about money and finding sustaining work, and I find it difficult to maintain a sense of self-worth in the face of constant flat rejection of my skills and experience.

This ping-ponging from up to down and back is wreaking havoc with my resiliency. Furthermore, it makes it difficult to keep focus on the present – to remember that this moment is the one I have to pay attention to. The more I worry about tomorrow, next week, next month, the more I fritter away today in distraction. Keeping focus, both on this moment and on remembering why I am here in the first place, takes mental discipline and emotional commitment. Some days, I find these hard to muster. Other days, well, those are the “best of times” and it is easier.

Last night, I met Kathe at the end of a long day for each of us. We were both tired, and the atmosphere of the coffee shop where we met was less than inspiring (crowded, cold, dingy lighting). As we talked, Kathe told me about the many people in her life struggling in real, consequential, “life or death” ways. She said, “These are people I actually know, not people I know of.” She went on to say that she feels a sense of urgency to live each day as fully as possible, because it has been brought home to her lately that we each have a finite number of them. It was an excellent reminder – that very urgency was a significant part of what led me here in the first place.

So, today is here. It’s an extremely cold morning again – schools cancelled for cold all over the state. But the sun is shining, and I’m alive and aware that this day is a precious one. It may seem like we’re smack dab in the middle of the winter of despair…but I think I’ll declare it day one of my personal “spring of hope” and take my cue from that.