Friday, September 5, 2008

Belmont, North Carolina 11.1.94: None So Blind as Those That See

And back in Belmont. As the crossed-out absurdity* indicates, jet-lagged to the max. We got up at 4:15 A.M., which didn’t help matters, and are now sitting in front of the fire.

Maybe it’s good that this travel journal held a few pages to complete after our return—a chance to stitch together the experience of the trip with the life I go on living, we go on living.

The “experience of the trip”—shorthand for what? Lots of disparate experiences, and none of them so earth-shattering that they lifted me out of the ordinary.

In fact, maybe the trip is directing my attention to something re: the life I’ve been living for a long time—i.e., that it’s monochromatic, fear-encapsulated, emotionally bottomed-out.

I’m not sure, exactly, that I walk the arid plain of depression. It feels more like walking one step at a time, with no signposts, because there is no other way. Have to go on living, and the only way to live is to live, one day and one step at a time.

And that’s how the trip to Germany was—one step at a time, many of them in places I wouldn’t have chosen. The grace of the ordinary is the phrase that leaps to mind now.

The rare ordinariness of friendship: how strange to have made the friendship of W. and K., R. and C., and perhaps now of M. and W. That totally unanticipated chain of events that brings people together, even across the globe. How extraordinarily kind all of them were to us, so that now our lives have boundaries permeable to former strangers, and even across time and space, our dreams and sorrows—even our material resources; they were so generous to us—flow together.

That recognition is, I suppose, the core of the trip experience. I have friends in many places, and they’re truly a gift to me. Even in the arid, dark place in which I walk—especially in this place—I must not forget this.

I come home a bit soul-rested, then, but also afraid. I’m afraid of so many things—of losing my sense of gratitude for all I’ve been given, of being crushed under routine and drudgery, of not seeing any point to my life here and now, of losing focus and becoming scattered, of sudden death, of losing Steve and not being able to cope, of continuing to live with Steve as we now live (so often quarrelsome or in stunned silence), of not seeing any doors open.

I’m also afraid of attempting to make changes in my life—losing weight, maintaining a daily schedule, reading more, studying German—that will help me onto the peach and health I’ve experienced on this trip. I know myself so well, how readily I relapse and then bitterly reproach myself for failing to live up to my goals.

At the bottom of it all—letting go. A journey is always letting go, of routine, certain comforts, one’s protective walls, obsessions and work, control of one’s schedule and environment. And since life itself is a journey to the ultimate letting go that faces us all, whether we want it or not, the puzzle is that we ever imagine we can live any other way except the way of letting go.

Ordinary grace and letting go—two phrases that run through my head over and over today, as I face resumption of my “old” life, and look back on the trip. The mystics say that life is full of grace. I’m yet to be convinced, but I do see grace at work in some rather “ordinary” ways in my life. The mystics also say that our failure to see is linked to our failure to let go.

For me, the problem is knowing how to let go. When we came to North Carolina, it seemed very important to have a comfortable house in a middle-class neighborhood. It seemed so because so much of our lives up that point had been a relinquishment we had not chosen, and one whose privations gradually ate into our sense of self-worth. We had begun to feel we deserved the crumbs from the table (the crumbs alone), and the kicks with which our generous benefactors dispensed the crumbs.

To face losing this house, the life we lead here, is very hard, then. It’s facing the resumption of that old life in which we had to accept that this is what queers must expect, since queers don’t count.

Maybe we ought to look at what has happened as a certain freeing from expectations that continue to be too small, however. The cliché—it’s a big world. To be in Germany is to see that in manifold ways. In such a big world, there’s surely a place for us, and that place may be more deeply satisfying and rich than any we’ve yet dreamt of.

That’s the point of letting go in mystical writing, I reckon—to learn to see that one’s preoccupations have been so misplaced, so focused on what is less rewarding and enriching. The life responsive to grace is not a life of dull self-obliteration, but of receptivity, celebration, grateful sharing of one’s blessings with others.

This is what’s hard for me. I haven’t learned to dance a certain dance, in which joy and sorrow, rage and resurrection, can interplay in my life. I don’t know how to be both light-handed and aware of my riches, to celebrate life in the midst of pain. Which is to say that I’m not the supple wild artist I’d like to be—an artist any saint is—but a dull, plodding, plebian creature who only dabbles in the creative and spiritual life.

In the last analysis, to be more than that, we have to let go even (especially?) of our hard-won virtues. These count as little in God’s eyes as our vices—perhaps less, because they have the greater potential to be hindrances to the life of grateful receptivity.

None so blind as those who see. One of the gifts of a trip such as that we’ve just taken is that one learns how very illusory one’s pretense to see clearly has been. The problem is not so much faulty vision; it’s locking into limited vision, as if that’s all there is. The world’s a big place. There are all kinds of people out there, all kinds of possibility, all kinds of ways of seeing, construing the world, thinking about it.

And now I must listen, to prepare myself for whatever immersion in that wide world will beckon me, when it’s time for me to be called to the next decisive step on my journey. To learn to listen well—there’s a focus of attention not unworthy of my thought, my life, in these days after the trip.

* I had inadvertently written Toronto, where we went to graduate school.

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