Salvaging Our Sanity

It’s April, the landscape is bursting with color, we’re sheltering in place up at the lake as a way of salvaging our sanity, but in truth I’m here to engage the scenery and the silence, to come to the edge of my imagination, and to write. As Wayne Dyer claims everything that’s created comes out of silence. Your thoughts emerge from the nothingness of silence. Your words come out of this void. Your very essence emerged from emptiness. All creativity requires some stillness.

I stand on the deck admiring Mt Konocti, she had her face blown off during an eruption (11,000 years ago ~ give or take a few days), but she’s the most intriguing part of the view. Here we are, attempting to survive a virus that has erupted on our world, we’ve incurred major injuries (not just physical), injuries that have left scars on our souls, but will we be defined by the worst that has happened to us?

Can there be a greater purpose COVID-19 being in the world? Rumi says the wound is the place where light enters you. Perhaps this is how we were designed? I know what you’re thinking, I belong in a straight jacket? If the family doesn’t get here soon God knows what will spring from my mind and land on this page?

Vance Havner says, “God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” Despite my inkling to weep bitterly the view is resplendently calming.

My sister got sick a few days ago and it just about took me down, buried emotions emerged from God knows where, and I sort of lost it. The good news is she has improved slowly throughout the week. I asked every damn day, some days several times, because I’m annoying, and I was dropping McDonald’s for Kenzie, so I had an opportunity.

I wanted her to rate her illness on a scale of 1 to 10, on our scale 10 is best, although Larry says we’re ass-backward? Anyhoo…she was a 1 on day one, a 3 on day two, a 6 on day three, a 9 on day four, but hasn’t returned to a 10 yet, she’s not as old as Mt. Konocti, but she’s old! Bahaha. We’ll give her some extra time because we’re in the middle of a pandemic.

We always bring Shaggy to the lake because he doesn’t have vocal cords, the perfect companion, teacher, protector. Shaggy is the ideal guest except for the foul delight he takes in rubbing on dead fish. He lays at my feet wherever I happen to be, looks me in the eye, and appears to instinctively calculate my emotion. If I am fearful he moves closer, if I am restless he gives me space, if I am lonely he gives me a lick, then grabs a ball and drops it at my feet. Play? Can you see the inherent value in this? Why can’t I learn to meet people where they are? To have the courage to look my worldly companions in the eye (when social distancing is no longer required), allow them their individuality, and then drop something in front of them that invites them to play? It’s so simple. The wisdom of dogs.

These are the random thoughts I find lapping at the edge of the lake along with the Canadian geese, grebe, osprey, and American white pelican. It feels prehistoric, okay that’s a slight exaggeration, but there is something very primitive about this setting, as if caught in the process of evolution, much like my thoughts.

It is quiet up here, too quiet for most people, but just perfect for writer types who like to vacation with their thoughts, spend time loafing around their interior spaces, where time no longer exists. As the outside world recedes, the things that come into focus are lofty notions like presence, being, joy, but also judgment, fear, and anger especially when it comes to our current world situation. “Our discomfort and our grappling is not a sign of failure,” America Ferrera says, “it’s a sign that we’re living at the edge of our imaginations.”

The grandkids will be arriving soon and they bring a different truth to this landscape. They come to explore, to play at the water’s edge, to eat Belgium waffles, to snuggle, to be seen, to move expressively, and might I add loudly!

Writing becomes a faint memory when the kids show up, because they become the cynosure of my attention, and the truth is I’m totally smitten. Audrey wants one on one attention, she likes to curl up together and watch a movie, read a story, talk about fashion, God, and nails. The twins play in tandem, recently their story lines have merged, which can be the source of conflict, and major unrest. They want the same lap, doll, puzzle, book, or hat, and they are very expressive when it comes to staking their claim.

I’m in constant search of twos, it’s rather revealing, see I’m a nine on the enneagram, and I prefer peace over the many advantages of learning how to resolve our conflicts if given the opportunity, which I frown upon. If I were mother earth their would be no fighting and lots of duplicates. I could learn a thing or two (no pun intended) from her, let them fight it out, or learn to share. This might be where darwinism comes into play.

I wonder if there will be a day when we are able to resolve our conflicts without ferocity? It’s as if we’ve remained adolescents, unable to matriculate, still confronting our differences with deeply embedded fears. Who am I to talk? When I was stopped by a cop the other day (before SIP), I wanted to jump out of the car, and completely lose my shit. You’ll have to trust my version of the story because the officer is not available for comment.

I’ll admit to making one tiny illegal maneuver, it’s been legal for fifty years, but now it’s considered criminal. Some time ago someone (a total nincompoop) decided we should no longer be allowed to drive straight across Leigh Avenue from Campbell Avenue, you must turn right, and drive three blocks out of your way to turn left, make your way around the block, and on to home. Who has time for that? There’s a sign posted and some annoying barriers. What ever. I sort of turned right, made this brilliant u-turn, and glided flawlessly down Campbell Avenue, it was gracefully choreographed, as if a ballet. But clearly these aesthetics were lost on the police officer, hiding in the shade, on a motorcycle, late in the afternoon.

“May I have your license please.” I dig it out of my wallet, furious but obliging because I was taught to be cooperative when encountering authority. As he heads back to his bicycle to see if I’m a wanted criminal this is what I’m quietly thinking, “I wasn’t driving too fast, on my cell phone, or texting. In fact my hands were at ten and two on the wheel. I wasn’t balancing a cup of coffee, eating granola, or fishing my sunglasses out from under the seat. The street was completely empty, I was coming home from the grocery store not a bar for goodness’ sake, the radio wasn’t even on, and now I’ll be traumatized every time I think about food shopping (as if it isn’t hard enough to figure out one-way isles and where the checkout line forms). There are new rules everywhere I go. In my thoughts, there was a considerable amount of swearing. You can only imagine?

As he approaches my window he says, “this plate isn’t registered, LIVNGAP?” I say, “it’s new, we just picked it up at the DMV,” and I hand him the new registration. I decide to try a little dog wisdom, see him as a person with issues much like my own (except the ticket part), maybe I’ll drop some playful words. “I’m not good at this yet, like a puppy who pees on the floor, just take me back to the paper,” says Anne Lamott. I say as sweetly as possible (without a hint of hypocrisy), “thank you, officer, for the reminder about the new barrier. I bet you have a nice smile when you’re not pursuing dangerous criminals?” He pulls off his sunglasses, bends down, and looks in the window as if I were harboring a fugitive? I smile ever so relieved the car is tidy. Then he leans back and actually smiles, “consider this a warning (glancing down at my license) Cheryl, no more illegal turns, next time you will be ticketed.” All I can say is the wisdom of dogs.

I wander out to the deck, plop in one of the comfy orange chairs, wine in hand, dog at my heels, grandchildren clamoring onto my lap, only to be traumatized by all the rice flies and spiders. It’s as if they haven’t had people to terrorize for a while and they’re hungry little buggers. There are so many types of spiders at the lake, webs everywhere, and I’m a bit of an arachnophobic. I might have to call John Goodman? It’s the webs that grab my attention clinging to my arm when I pass too closely.

We are all part of the web of life (work with me people it’s all I got), delicately attached, but it’s sticky, and let’s not forget the black hairy Coronavirus lurking in every metaphorical corner. This web of relationships includes everyone, not only those we love, but police officers with nice smiles, even tax collectors. As Anne Lamott notes the conscious mind seems to block that feeling of oneness so we can function efficiently, maneuver in the world a little bit better, abide traffic laws (LOL), and pay our taxes on time. Let that stick with you for a while. Okay, I’ll stop, plus I have to refill my wine.

After the children have been put to bed, I ignore the disastrous house and sneak back out to the fire pit to peer at the stars, and SIP. Simone Weil says of stars and blossoming fruit-trees: utter permanence and extreme fragility give an equal sense of eternity. I ask myself because Shaggy’s not talking, what does eternity really mean? Spiritually the soul is considered indestructible, as if energy, which we know can be converted in form, but not created, or destroyed. So…does eternity have more to do with transformation, a metamorphosis if you will, one that takes on many forms, and those forms are ever-changing? We could be on to something here…

Or I might need sleep.

I came across this poem today and thought it sort of tugged at my message or maybe it simply encompassed my thoughts at the moment. Anywho… I’m all fired up about the sheet of flame.

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.

This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.

~Jack London

I stand at the edge of my imagination and grapple with the view of the future, the rising generations, the emerging story that I want to be part of, to meet them here at the lake, and rest in their presence. This is what joy looks like to me. There is joy in paying attention, observing silently, as Gary Snyder notes, ripples on the surface of the water were silver salmon passing under – different from the ripples caused by breezes.

Sometimes I’m so intrigued with the subtle nuances in this life that I fail to see the resplendent joy that lingers on the surface. I’m learning, but sometimes I fail, just take me gently back to the paper.


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