This time of the year typically involves reflecting on the past. Part of it stems, of course, from facing a New Year and looking ahead, as well as the news from distant friends in their Christmas and Chanukah cards. Part of it also arises as we hunker down in the long nights around the solstice. It’s more than just looking back over the previous 12 months to get a sense of what we what or need to do next. Sometimes, it reaches back much farther. Or what we’ve lost.
Back on November 4, I blogged on “Returning to high school and its misery” and so much emotional baggage I thought I’d left behind 57 years ago. That post was the first time I could honestly admit that the period was essentially miserable for me – until now, I had maintained walls of denial. My elder daughter, hearing of this, was incredulous. Seems everybody her age and younger knows those years are supposed to be miserable. Eradicate any indoctrination of they’re being “the best years of your life,” unless you’ve truly been stunted.
As that post related, a recently renewed connection has led to some much deeper conversation and awareness than we ever had back then. In addition, it’s opened paths to others and glimpses into how their lives have unfolded over the decades.
Some manifest the life I’d expected to follow – should I say fulfill? – after graduation from college and returning to my hometown. Instead, my career took me in a much different and likely rockier direction. One path would have deepened friendships over the years. The other kept leaving new friendships behind in the sunset, rarely by conscious decision but rather by the practical demands of resettling in a new location.
I’ve been counseled that emotions are real and don’t die or just go away. When they’re buried, they operate out of sight, insidiously, sometimes undermining what’s happening on the surface. As I discussed some of what I’ve been experiencing in revisiting the past, my wife observed that it sounded like these are happening now, rather than back-then. She had never heard my desire to return to my hometown, almost as a mission, but rather insisted that I could wait to break loose and run away. Acknowledging that the doors to any return had closed behind me was difficult, but that’s what’s occurring as the feelings come to full light. This time, there’s no denial of being hurt or feeling reject, no suppression of the sense of failure or hurt or that as they open, however belatedly, even slow me at the moment. What’s important is just sitting with them and being honest as another step in psychological health and wisdom. There’s energy in them, once I claim them. Let me say it’s something like having bass and alto harmonies running in music. Or solving a cold-case murder or heist and seeking justice.
One photo I chanced across cut hard. The caption named someone who looked nothing like she did back then, and it hinted at difficulties. I followed it to another, of the beauty I remembered in her youth. Quite simply, I’d had a big crush on her, though she was older and, in many ways, out of my league but sometimes in a big sister sort of way. Still, the last time we had been together ended badly, or maybe off-key, from my side, at least. At the minimum, I should have phoned her afterward, no matter if it was a very difficult summer for me.
What I’m discovering now is that our lives wound up in surprisingly parallel directions, though I’m also acknowledging that no one could have accompanied me on all of the relocations I’ve made, many of them shaped by closed doors as well as openings, most of them through my years in lower-level newspaper management. What I keep finding is that the deeper thread of that zig-zag journey, with addresses in nine states, has been spiritual growth. Yes, there I was, trying to move up in a shrinking business field. Ultimately, by stepping down and earning a union card, I made it to retirement.
For now, I’m hoping she replies to my overtures, but there’s no telling whether she’s even looking at her email or Facebook these days, much less responding. There are so many questions I want to ask and details and perspectives I want to hear. And parts I want to apologize for, as well as others I wish to celebrate.
My previous post included memes from the Disillusioned Bell-Ette, an outrageously funny FB page that also blew open some of the cover I’ve been working through.
Here are a few more.
I love mountains and have, after all, lived close to the Cascade Range in Washington state and the White Mountains of New Hampshire as well as in the Poconos in Pennsylvania and the Allegany foothills of Upstate New York. Much of Downeast Maine even fits the terrain. What makes this one so funny is that the three Bell-Ettes have ventured so far from the generally flat landscape of our high school, which sat very close to the highest point in the city. Nothing like this, though. So much for the first inside joke. Add to that the directions for pizza and chocolate candy. Clifton Gorge had been a largely unknown canyon with the Little Miami River running over a waterfall that was out of reach and nearly out of sight. Now it’s better known as part of a public park, and what had been a big cliff for me is now dwarfed by the bluffs along the Atlantic around here. As for being headed in the right direction? Mine was always away.
One streak of the Disillusioned Bell-Ette postings had them going abroad in search of Enlightenment. That is, far from our high school and hometown. And here I thought I’d been the only Bison to wind up in an ashram? Not all of their encounters had them meeting gurus or holy men.
With its broad streets, Kyoto could have been the downtown of our modernized home city, except for the lettering and the mountain at the end of the street. And we never would have imagined sushi. Some of us have come far over the years.
Underground public transit was another of those things that were far from us. Cincinnati, the metropolis to our south, almost had a subway, and that’s a fascinating story all its own. But considering the extent to which I fell in love with subways (yes, love does seem a strange word in this context) and even wrote a novel about the wonders, real and imagined, I was delighted to see the Bell-Ettes following up in, err, my tracks.
More to the point, I’m more fully realizing the downsides and hidden costs of what’s been an incredible life, even with its many near misses when it came to making the big time. Or maybe because I hadn’t been sucked upward in those opportunities.
Elegance a subset of simplicity.
Proportion a subset of right order.
Dwelling in a rundown, low-income part of town or the countryside is a common theme in much of my writing. Call it funky, if you will, but it’s there – like I recall.
Assuming you’ve had a similar experience, where did you do your laundry?
Mommy! I’ll be quiet!
no straight lines, only the spiral endlessly reconfiguring
“may your hands be filled with blessings”
“may you be a blessing”
I was like one of their books, read once and then put on a shelf.
In one poem, which I’ve crunched here from my own journal entry, he replies: “You ask me how to pray to someone who is not. All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge and walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard, above landscapes the color of ripe gold transformed by a magic stopping of the sun. That bridge leads to the shore of reversal where everything is just the opposite and the word is unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned. Notice: I say we there, everyone, separately, feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh and knows that if there were no other shore they will walk that aerial bridge all the same.”
Elsewhere he wrote: “’I could not have had a better life than the one I had,’ she writes to me in February 1983 from Warsaw, Irena who has lived through the occupation of her country by two enemy armies, had to live in hiding trailed by the Gestapo, then adapt herself to Communist rule, witness the terror and the workers’ responses in 1956, 1970, 1976, 1980, and the martial law proclaimed in December 1981.”
I’m not sure I agree fully with his theology, but I completely appreciate the richness of his grappling with 20th century unbelief and its practice with his discovery that there is, indeed, something larger than what we admit – something few other artists in our time have been able to pull off convincingly enough to be considered sound artistically. (Milosz won the Nobel Prize, 1980.)
He also wrote: “To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness.”
And, he quoted from Renee le Senne: “For me the principal proof of the existence of God is the joy I experience any time I think that God is.”
Again, Milosz: “To wait for faith in order to pray is to put the cart before the horse. Our way leads from the physical to the spiritual.” And himself: “My friend Father J.S. did not believe in God. But he believed God, the revelation of God, and he always stressed the difference.”
I’ve been accused of being unable to understand because I’m a man. It was tempting to respond that she couldn’t understand my need to have a God the Father to relate to as a man who needs a role model and a complete positive (for the most part) male authority figure, and she couldn’t understand because she’s a woman. We are in a bind. But that cheap shot would have accomplished nothing. I still say that Biblical language is not exclusive, if rendered correctly.
The irony here arose in the case of a woman who was being criticized by a man for using Biblical language. Who should know more whether she felt excluded by its masculine nouns? As she said, it’s his problem.
Oh, my, this was all before some of my most important fictional characters were women.