For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone. I feel I am with you now, whatever that can mean, considering you are only a little fellow now and when you're a man you might find these letters of no interest. Or they might never reach you, for any number of reasons. Well, how deeply I regret any sadness you have suffered and how grateful I am in anticipation of any good you have enjoyed. That is to say, I pray for you. And there's intimacy in it. That's the truth.
- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
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If you have not met John Ames, the man at the center of this book, you have done yourself a dis-service and you must correct it as quickly as possible.
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There is an intimacy in anything done for another, in anything done with someone in mind, the very impulse to care and do. The very good man, John Ames, writes letters to his seven year old son because he is old and soon to die and entire passages of his son's life will not be shared, so he shares what he can, as he can, from where he is. Imperfect. Incomplete, but then again that is where any of us begin. It is this willingness to accept imperfection, to recognize that whatever ideal we may have placed before ourselves, life insists upon it own rhythms and instead of bemoaning the loss of an impossibility we are better served fleshing out the fullness of our imperfection.
Part of what stops us is the premise we've been working from. We postpone and delay the acts of our intimacy waiting for a perfection that does not arrive while we wait. Perfection, if that's the name for it, is found only after the fact, in the doing, the certain, un-name-able knowledge that we have reached out far beyond ourselves and our fears and brought friendship, love, hope, kindness or the plainest decency to another. And such insight arrives in ways that have nothing to do with the visions of "just so" we've lied to ourselves about. It arrives sometimes bruised, sometimes sorrowfully, sometimes with a quality of joy over the simplest of things (the patter of rain on leaves, a quality of light only available under October moons, a kiss, the sight of your children strong, the memory of those you've lost that somehow no longer brings grief). But always this imperfect perfection arrives when you get out of your head and into your life.
As I write these words, I know I am somehow finding you. By what ever strange confluence of events, my words have reached you and I take great care not to be an asshole. I used to worry over mis-readings, but I no longer do. I figure if I am honest and fully engaged with these works, then the chance to be mis-read becomes very small and is well outside of my control. But only if I have been honest. Perhaps, there is a part of me that cannot recall what, exactly I said five years ago here, and that is the source of my worry, but I will leave it alone. I can go back and re-read, but I don't. I have this here, today, to do.
* * *
Each of us has our work to do. I believe, if you can quiet yourself long enough, you will hear your work calling out to you. I am not talking about what pays the bills - though there are some who manage to blend the two - no, I am talking about the very thing that lies at the center of your experience. There is a passage in Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha that I have always loved:
Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
To give yourself to it.
If you can allow this to happen. If you can set aside your fears and your worries that, well, shit, I am already working to two shitty jobs to cover the bills and I am just so damned tired. If you can let go of that mindset of fatigue and instead open yourself up you will find that whatever work you discover in yourself is the most intimate thing you are capable of. There is a deep-seated strength and grace in that. Your work becomes intimate precisely because it no longer references you and your fears and afflictions. Your work is, once you give yourself to it, always outward facing, always a gift you bring to others that also soothes your soul for the giving of it.
And here's the thing no one tells you: your well never runs dry.
The more you give yourself to your work, the more it fills you up. The more you give away, the more you have to work with. And at the center of all this is the intimacy of acceptance that you have been looking for.
Have you noticed that when you toss money in a collection plate, or donate the old canned goods in your pantry to whom ever is collecting them, that there is little satisfaction in it? It is good, yes, but it is missing the critical element of what I now know as intimacy. Those gifts are from you and not of you and they may be helpful, but they are not intimate and that, right there, is the whole ball of wax, my brothers and sister.
The whole ball of wax.
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