exhausted, but can't sleep. although it's not so very late, I have spent the weekend eating myself up with worry -- for myself, for one I love, for the universe.
I lay there against my father's side with my head pillowed on his arm, hearing the wind, and feeling a pity that was far too deep to have any particular object. I pitied my mother, who might have to come looking for us and would never, never find us. I pitied the bats and the mice. I pitied the earth and the moon. I pitied the Lord.
-- marilynne robinson, gilead
I have rewritten this four times, deleted it, rewritten it. what it is I want to say cannot be said.
nothing in this life happens the way we expect it to. nothing.
your friends feed you tequila shots and don't judge you for your foibles. your sister sends you a picture of her roommate's dog, which they have just, not for the better, shaved. people step up to try and fill the void. the void is huge sometimes, but people try so hard. so very hard. this part of the universe is a blessing.
nietzsche: when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.
when I was a second-year graduate student, and my stepfather was dying of brain cancer, I stood once, late at night, on the slab of concrete outside my back door, smoking a cigarette, feeling terrible about everything, and thinking in great depth about grace. grace was something that my stepfather could not find in his last months, though let it never be said that I think he should have had to. but it made it hard for us, his grief, his brokenness, the way all he could talk about was cancer, cancer, cancer. in those longest, hardest nights, alone in the dark in my ant-ridden apartment, broke, terrified, I thought hard about grace, about how, above all things, it was what I wanted to find.
I think about that still, constantly. I don't know if I have found it except in glimpses. I could not really tell you, even, what I think it is. the ability to rise above? the ability to shield others from yourself? when you put it like that, it just sounds terrible, repressed and stoic. it isn't what I mean. grace is what you give to people, to make the passage through trouble easier. my troubles, and yours.
I can't say any of this right.
when I was in syracuse -- I don't even think I told you, but I was in syracuse in july -- I saw an old professor of mine, one I have mentioned once or twice, in no specific way, here on this blog. in my mind I think of him as "my old adversary," a person who never directly was my teacher but who taught me much nevertheless. the relationship was a fraught one from the beginning, supposedly about clarinet but always more about writing, about life. as a young 20-something, I felt he was somehow a kind of omniscient narrator, that he could see right through me. how terrible, then, were his condemnations when they came down. I took them to heart, and very badly. we fought. we stopped speaking, then started again, then stopped. once, he called me the only woman I will never fully understand.
well, I saw him when I went to syracuse. I saw him at the expense of my dear old clarinet professor, who was never anything but kind, who deserved all my love. I saw him in order to lay to rest all those old demons between us. and, as it turns out, such a thing is possible. we had lunch. it was light and easy. we laughed and were glad to see one another. all the old bitterness had vanished. it turns out that you can change, grow wiser, be braver, face your fears.
I realize how much I did, in some sense, believe that there was a sort of sacredness just to the sight of him, and it really shocked me that those children could violate it as they were doing. I was standing there, taking it in, trying to decide what to do, when the old man wheeled around and planted that stare on me. How he knew I was there I don't know, and why he looked at me that way is a thing I never have understood, as if I were the betrayer. It felt unfair to me at the time, but I never could dismiss it. I never could tell myself that it was just an error, that there was nothing in it.
Well, I'll confess I did feel a certain embarrassment about him. It may even have been shame. And it was not the first time I had felt it, either. But I was a child at the time, and it seems to me he might have made some allowance. These people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you're making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.
when later he wrote me an email with some of the old dramatic psychoanalysis, I could see straight through it. 'why, he's just wrong,' I thought, amused. 'he thinks he knows me, but he doesn't. all that time I thought he knew everything, but he didn't. in the end he was just wrong -- such a simple thing.' lightness, after all that struggle.
what am I saying to you?
life is short. more than anything, I want to love deeply, forgive easily, be kind. there is no room in my life for anything but honesty. there is no time to be bitter, and no time to be afraid. when faced with a hard choice, the question I always ask myself -- always -- is, "if I were on my deathbed tonight, which would I regret more, the doing, or the not doing?" it's the yardstick of my life. I have made so many mistakes. big ones, that have caused great hurt. I might regret them, but I would not take them back. the mistakes are a part of you, and form you so much more than the successes. the good things, we glide right through; the things we do wrong carve us into our future selves.
a friend once wrote me, years after we had last spoken. we'd gone to school together. he chose a life in finance, I chose the arts. he wrote to say, 'you knew better than I did. how?' I couldn't answer. he said, 'if I had to do it all again, I'd become a craftsman. I'd make furniture, have a woodshop.' I said, 'if I had it all to do again, I would.'
every mistake I have made; all the things I have doubted; all the times I have been so afraid. I can't sleep tonight for fear of loss, for worry over one I love, for devastation at my own mistakes. but if I could go back and do it again, I wouldn't change any of it. for all the fear, so much joy it brought me. if I could do it all again, I would.
Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?