Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Only Gifts

The only gifts from my Lord
Were a birth and a divorce
But I read the script and the costume fit
So I played my part

- The Lumineers, "Cleopatra"

* * *

There are times when you read something, hear something, some song, some bit of conversation, see something and your only response is to say, "Yes, fucking yes," under your breath because whatever it was that you read, heard, or saw so completely matches up with a truth you have known but haven't articulated that its: right on, yes, fucking, yes, that's it. And a thread of your loneliness flies away.

"Cleopatra" has that all over it. For me.

* * *

Rabbi Nachman wrote:  "Every day the glory is ready to emerge from its debasement." 

That this is true is difficult for us to imagine. We move through our days as best we can trying to tend to the immediate, the need in front of us, the task at hand. It is our way. It is also our way to become trapped in the immediate, the need and task in front of us, for that is an endless wave: moment by moment we have to choose what we do next. Over time this choosing becomes automatic, without thought, born out of experience and mostly it helps us to make it through each day. And yet these daily obligations are drained of any grace or meaning because they play on an endless loop. The only changes we notice are when we shift roles from child to adult to lover to parent to bread winner to caregiver to being aged to our demise. Each transition is marked by how expectations for us shift from no responsibility, to wearying responsibility, to no expectation but to die in our fashion and in turn.

I know: grim.

Yet, that is just the commonest story. It is not fate or destiny. At any moment you are free to choose differently. At any moment you can decide to choose differently and so live differently – even at the very end. The sort of life you have can be changed for a different sort of life, a life closer to the bone of your existence and the threshold to that life is not far, it is not remote, nor does it have to be earned by acts of worthiness. Every day the glory is ready to emerge from its debasement, is one response. There is also this: you simply choose it because what has come before has not sustained you.

I know,  I know: there's nothing "simply" about it.

Except that's how it is. What gets you to that point, what drives you to your knees, what breaks the hold of others' expectations for you - that's not so "simply." But once there the distance is not far. It takes but a breath.

* * *

The first gift is a birth. After that they tumble out, hand over fist, head over heel, one after the other in a torrent of possibility. But we are taught early to narrow the field and the wonder we once felt at the smell of rain, how walnuts make the tongue raw, the work of ants, the color of our blood, the stickiness of peaches, how running felt like flying, the flash of anger when we felt poorly used, the way water from a hose tastes better than from a glass, our first achievements, our first losses, the sweetness of our memories of a childhood dog, the Mississippi River, lying on our backs and staring into trees, into clouds, the taste of snow is slowly ebbed from us. But that is only our perception. The gifts remain and as we get older, as we matriculate along the timeline of our lives it takes greater and greater disruptions to catch our attention.  

Other gifts arrive: divorce, job loss, foreclosure, death, disease...

Each is a chance for you to change how you are experiencing the one life in your hands. Those latter gifts are terrible, can be terribly painful, but within each, just as within all the other gifts of taste and memory and sensation, lies the seed of your possibility. It is never far. It is always at hand. You just have to see it, to recognize it, to choose it.

And to choose it will mean to not choose other things, perhaps things that have been expected of you since birth, or that you've assumed you must take on because the larger society approves of this over that. Parents, well-meaning, may send you down a career path of stolid respectability because they fear economic hardship for you otherwise and because they are your parents you listen and perhaps stop listening to yourself. Reasonable things are lovely, but perhaps not for you. But if you follow there will come a time when you understand you didn't have to live this way. That will be a hard day and the threshold will still be right there for you.

* * *

Cleopatra was taller than the rafters, but missed much because the costume fit. 

This is a great sorrow, for everyday the glory is ready to emerge from its debasement, for everyday it is possible to choose a different sort of life, to build it out of other materials, to center it on a different idea. Perhaps the gift handed to you of faith and certainty is a hand in glove for you – right on, fuck yes, have at it. Perhaps the large, slow moving currents of society's expectation make perfect sense to you. Then go with your God. And perhaps the costume doesn't really fit, you've just convinced yourself it does so you can get along in the world. I get that. But listen, love, don't give up. You can choose a different way of being in the world, one that does no harm to you or those around you. You may disappoint some, but that is no harm. That is just a gift you give them to remind them the threshold to a different way of experiencing the one life they have to live is right there, at hand, not far, just the length of a breath.

* * *

I wish you well.


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