Looking back, it seems that some unknown part of me–some questioning part deep in the heart rather than the answering part of the mind–was/is looking for a new direction, a way forward. Some submerged and unknown part of me knew that it was time for a change. Recently, I mentioned being in England without a book to get lost in. I visited Blackmore’s, a quaint book store next to the college I was staying in. But I didn’t settle on a title, and as the days passed I realized that this state of book-less-ness was a quiet, imperceptively radical act against the status quo–of reading myself to sleep at night, of reading in buses and trains, of turning away from myself and any parts of reality I don’t like.
“I am poor in the material of impressions of myself,” writes Madame de Salzmann in The Reality of Being. “What I have is so little, it has no weight. If I really want to know something, to be sure of something, I first need to be ‘impressed’ by the knowledge. I need this new knowledge. I must be ‘impressed’ by it so strongly that I will at this moment know it with all of myself, my whole being, not merely think it with my head. If I do not have enough impressions, enough of this being-knowledge, I can have no conviction.”
I took in a few impressions of myself while I was in England. I don’t know if they were indelible, but they were quiety shocking. I saw that I actually spend a huge amount of time thinking about what I would like to eat and how I would like to go to sleep and sometimes how well I feel and how I would like to take a walk or sit quietly. This is the truth, I realized. I’m pretty much a baby, just not as cute. Yet, I also saw that by accepting the humble ground of my being (as someone wrote in response to my blog last time “humble” and “humus” –earth–and maybe hummos–are all related) another possibility appeared. In rare moments (when I was not obsessing about eating and sleeping) it struck me that there is another way to live–even as we go about our daily rounds. There is a wild and unknown reality above the known world, and we can touch it and be touched by it. What it takes (to start) is just a willingness to see and be seen.
As I write this, Alex is off in Rome, having what I hope is a great romantic adventure. And I’m home again, feeling as if I’m about to embark on an adventure of my own, not outward–or not just outward–but towards myself, my true nature. I feel a little like a fire was kindled in England, somehow those humble impressions of myself, which included also the sense of time, of the energy this body has left. I thought of Mary Oliver’s indelible poem “The Journey:” “and there was a new voice/which you slowly recognized as your own,’that kept you company/as you strode deeper and deeper into the world….”
I also thought of a scene Lillian Firestone shares in The Forgotten Language of Children. She describes a trip to an Onondaga Reservation, in upstate New York, to attend a PowWow or general assembly of tribes where visitors were tolerated. There, Firestone met Henry, a tall, tanned Micmac from the Shubenacadie reservation in Nova Scotia, who asked Firestone in a kindly way “why you people want us to be like you?” Firestone invites Henry to talk to the children she is chaperoning and he gives them a glimpse of another way of being, in which words don’t count for much and the greatest gifts are not things. He described being taken away from his parents at 8-years-old, forced to go live in a big Catholic orphanage in Quebec, basically because it was standing empty.
“’Now before they take me away,” he said, ‘my Mom and Dad, they want to give me a present, but they are poor and they got nothing to give. So they take me 100 miles away from Shubie in the forest and they leave me there and they say, ‘Son, find your way home.’”
It was all his parents had to give, Henry explained to the incredulous children, and it was intended to him a feeling of competence, of being safe in the midst of the unknown. “When I get home, they know I will feel like I can do something hard, like I’m a man.”
I never was in a situation where I had to give Alex such a stark and serious gift. But I’m tempted to give it to myself now. It’s really an extraordinary gift to give oneself, isn’t it? Permission to be lost, to be not smart, to be not much of anything, to be bereft…left to find our own way home.