Think panoramic views in all directions, of sky above, valley below, the foothills, and the mountain peaks; with trails and a paved, heart-bracing, limb-stretching roadway down to the highway and back. Steep, too.
Earlier I mentioned being "bogged" and unable to write. My friend Jan Johnson says that she doesn't believe in "writer's block"--only that it means something else in our life needs attention. Maybe we need to forgive someone or resolve something. Or, I think, grieve something. And in that long backward glance I mentioned before, I realized that I had been living (for too long) along the narrow thread of what-has-to-be-done, and that had shut down some other things: deeper listening, and the sense that there were too many layers; too many points to follow, so instead of choosing something on which to focus, I simply closed off. Maybe that's just what we do. And maybe there are times we need to.
And I did not mention in the other post -- huge -- that in the midst of those days, along that thread of what-has-to-be-done, someone close to me attempted suicide. Though she didn't die, it feels as though it was her way of leaving us. Of saying, "I'm not going to be in your life any more." And she hasn't been.
And, shortly before the retreat, once again the anniversary of Eddie's death came around, the accumulation of Twenty-Eight Years of Never the Same.
And, following lots of tears and sleep and processing, I felt the grief begin to subside and then this: The sun so bright and deep blue of sky pulled me into its light and warmth; and the tiny white plane drifted off toward the clouds and I could still hear it once it was out of sight. So lovely, that deep, timeless, connected quality. Again I profess my love for God, for the Christ of all eternity, and am filled with gratitude. And there were two crows, a magpie, and the moon.
But not without, of course, getting in touch with a Gethsemane moment that hit me at breakfast one of those first mornings, and what felt like my deepest place of vulnerablity: fearing the worst, so sad about everything that's happened; alone and sad and afraid and bereft; knowing that all I can do is look to God and ask God to be with me whatever comes and to somehow redeem it all.
It became a process of peeling, and paring back. . .that took me some unrecognizable places, but somehow at the same time gave me hope. But it took all my courage to look; and I found the support was there that I needed. Because, and isn't this so great, the things you most need are somehow placed in your hands at the moment you most need them? And not until?
Most of the sadness had to do with my son, Daniel, who's been in county jail in Aledo, Illinois, since July 26th. That's a whole 'nother post, which I carry within and will spin out a week or so from now.
Not that I haven't examined the sadness in connection with our relationship before. But now I started looking at all of it from other angles, seeking a new frame of reference. It's somewhat like the way an mri works. . .in slices. Over the course of the retreat, I allowed my heart to be sliced, and sliced, and sliced--on so many levels. It was a clarifying process that moved me away from the blurred thinking of this is so terrible, and painful and unendurable, as well as the false conclusion I'd reached: therefore everything is so terrible, and painful and unendurable. . . (big fat lie, even if on some level you want it to be true.)
The brain is designed to seek resolution, and so must be the heart.
That third afternoon, along my path, I followed the sound of gurgling and discovered a bench and a fountain, frozen over and buried in ice. That fountain became a metaphor for the thawing of my heart. Over the next few days, every time I ventured out for a walk, I sat there for a while, hearing the flow of water, but still unable to see. The bubbling never broke completely through the ice while I was there, but by the time I left a couple of openings had formed, and I sat aiming snowballs at the holes. At last, I thought, some things are finding their way in.
And then I picked up one of Wendell Berry's books and found this:
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles of water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle. . .
Then what I'm afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
~ Wendell Berry
Oh, the power of that tiny, vulnerable place! Jack Kornfield speaks also of the tremendous capacity our hearts have for grief, compassion, laughter, joy, love, connection, and loneliness. He says of the heart's chakra, its energy center, that "the great patterns of our heart will surface here--sweetness and love will fill our being. The opening of the heart can be fast or slow, occurring a petal at a time, or with great explosions of feeling. It can encompass the whole universe with love and compassion. It can become the center that moves all things."
And, a few days later, I don't know how many, the novel surfaced again. I sat one entire afternoon by the fire, writing a section of Rella's story.