Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Journey

Tomorrow morning my Christmas journey takes me to Crestone, Colorado, a tiny village north of Sand Dunes National Park in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I don't know what I'm looking for, or what's looking for me. I'm not particularly drawn to this place nor any other and feel more leaf-like than anything else. Hopelessly beautiful leaves skittered by wind; maybe that's all we are, no more or less beautiful than all this wondrousness, this matter.

What is it to be in one's fifth decade? When I ask such a question my mother's pragmatic, judgmental  voice answers, tisk, tisk, tisk. And I feel shame. My mind bothered my mother. She believed there were questions we shouldn't ask. She didn't think we should delve into what suffering is. She believed I was selfish, proud, unsatisfied with how things are, unnecessarily contemplative. She believed I needed to pray words empty of thought. I believe my mom struggled to survive and that, in her own way, she silently puzzled over philosophical questions. But maybe she just drank instead.

My son calls our problems First World Problems as a way of delegitimizing his suffering. My son tells me it's easy to say but harder to live.

This line of thought leads me to think of the ancients puzzling out what it is to be alive with our particular kind of consciousness. How to live in the present. How to reduce suffering. Not avoid, not ignore, not abolish. But reduce. How to recognize the causes of suffering in one's own life and the lives of others. How to be compassionately detached. I want to tell my mother to be quiet. My emptiness, my stillness is mine. We're not all equipped with your no-nonsense disposition, Mom. A blackbird is never just a blackbird. Not more than. Just more. All. I quit drinking before I had children. I sought help and grew to have the strength to get out of a dysfunctional marriage. I earned a PhD. I was an upstanding community member and bread-winner for 25 years. I was my ideal self during this time of raising children.

I wasn't my ideal self in the two years following my husband's death, which caused unpropitious living circumstances for my youngest son's last year-and-a-half of high school. He was 16 when Bill died.

Since my husband's death, I've been searching. First I tasted physical passion. I tasted the fame of a small pond. Then I tasted security. Passion was too painful, fame too shallow, security too lonely.

My role in my grown children's lives has changed, is changing.

Everything changes.

A family that bought flowers at our flower shop shared their suffering with my sister and me. The father had died, and the mother was so crippled by his death she refused to accept the gift of fresh flowers. Cut-flowers die, she explained. She refused to visit her late-husband's grave with the flowers her out-of-town children sent. She didn't want to think about his name carved in stone, she explained. These two refusals (I assume there were more) caused the entire family (and by extension my sister and me) untold suffering. The woman's grown children insisted on sending their mother fresh cut flowers as some sort of immersion therapy, we were told. She was refusing to face her husband's death. She refused to accept them--their flowers, their therapy, their conception of what her suffering should look like, how long it should last, etc. She told us she'd accept silk flowers, but not fresh flowers. We told her children this. They wouldn't be swayed. On one occasion, the angry and exasperated receiver called another good customer, who, in turn, called our mother to report our insensitivity. Every holiday and memorial day the problem escalated until we refused the business. Our refusal was met with incredulity and incivility.

People have to be given the space to work through grief in their own ways and in their own time. Maybe that mom will never enjoy fresh flowers again, maybe she won't ever visit her husband's grave. My dad wouldn't arrange an all red rose casket piece because there was one on his mother's coffin. He was nine-years-old. Maybe the children will never understand their mother's grief and maybe their mother will never understand her children's. What they all need to do is recognize and accept, lovingly, how grief has changed them. Death is an experience for the living too. An experience that changes the living.

Maybe I am refusing to accept the gift of Love. Maybe that's what our culture of getting and spending does, refuses love. I am exhausted by culture and marketing--this I know.

I also know that I am ambivalent, which causes me to suffer and causes suffering to those who love me and those I touch intimately. I am afraid to step out of the World and embrace living. I am afraid to learn how to live another way. I have been considering ancient texts, both Western and Eastern. I have been considering theologies and contemplations on living. Maybe that's what is drawing me to Crestone.

Here's a poem by William Wordsworth

The World is Too Much With Us

by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God!  I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

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