Tuesday, September 6, 2011

...thoughts on words and silence

fellow sojourners

Aloha, my friends, I am back. The last few weeks marked a new chapter of my life. I married Bill after eighteen months of emails, Skype, and phone calls, a slow time of reacquaintance after a forty year absence. This inadvertent reunion followed an attempt to reconnect with his sister, Bonnie, my contemporary. 
As adults we have lived on opposite coasts. As children, blocks apart. He was three years older, thus, in the eyes of my father, jailbait. My dad really didn’t have to worry, though. I don’t recall the proper label of my generation but, in today’s vernacular, I was a geek. A card-carrying, math-tutoring, certified dork. As such, I knew my place in the scheme of things.  When a cute boy passed, I stuck my head in my locker if possible. Otherwise I looked down at my loafers and walked into the nearest wall. 
My daughter, bless her heart, remarked upon hearing this, “Mom, it’s time you embraced your inner geek. I have.” Oh, my darling child. When I see you, I do not see a geek. Yes, you are smart. But my blue-eyed, blonde-haired, long-legged, beautiful creature, you can remember song lyrics. Dance. Ride a mountain bike. Race. Bake mouth-watering, original recipes...iconic Mimosa cupcakes with champagne batter and icing. Design a hospital. Or a house. And you are wise. So I have taken your advice.
I have also moved across the country.  My children, my granddaughter, my friends, my winter coats, sweaters, and boots have not. Priorities prevail. I can layer clothes until my outerwear joins me. As for my far-away dears, I am exceedingly thankful for the ether-world. How wonderful to chat online. A lifetime of championing delayed gratification has given way to the utter joy of an instantaneous picture of my granddaughter, a text from Patrick or Scott, an email from Leslie, a phone call from Adrienne. 
Now, on to today’s blog. I am, indeed, tired of words. I am weary of labels lobbed with self-righteous fervor. Verbal ammunition so loud as to drown out reason and discourse. Clamor and harangues on one hundred channels and spewed across Facebook. Silence, please! 
“Celeste, I hear you. Tell me, just exactly what do you do?”
“I write.”
“Without words?”
“No. I am considering a change.”
“What sort of change?”
“Not writing.”
“Hmmmm.” Annoying silence follows. I asked for it.
This conversation between myself and the cosmos won’t go away. Yesterday Thomas Merton joined the discussion. My favorite monk added this to the mix:
What is meant by identity? ...For practical purposes here we are talking about one's own authentic and personal beliefs and convictions, based on experience of oneself as a person, experience of one's ability to choose and reject even good things which are not relevant to one's own life. Identity in this deep sense is something that one must create for oneself by choices that are significant and that require a courageous commitment in the face of anguish and risk. [Merton, Thomas. Contemplation in a World of Action. (Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame Press, 1998) 61]
This was followed by a question.  "Throughout this week, pause, take a breath, and listen with your heart.  How do you identify yourself?"*
I have paused. I have taken a breath. I have listened with my heart. I am a writer. At sixty, I have made peace with myself. Perhaps I am your particular cup of tea. Perhaps not. I know that writing is how I process life, how I engage in relationship that goes beyond the familiar to the faceless. Writing is keeping a promise to you, Mrs. Powell. One made while picking pears with you, then repeated in our last long afternoon together before you slipped into the silence of Alzheimer’s. You placed your hands on my shoulders as if to anoint. Your head was tilted slightly up, your spine as erect as ever. Your face so close to mine that I could smell your sweet chocolate/peanut butter pie breath. And you extracted a promise with the precision of a skilled surgeon. 
As an adult, I took a safe path, hiding behind the impersonal words of copywriting and web design. Private journaling fueled my spirit but the commitment given that Sunday afternoon in south Georgia wouldn’t go away.  So I began this blog. Admittedly, in part, due to a couple of other nudges: one named Mary; the other, Bill. The cosmos channels through a variety of voices. 
My brief sabbatical of semi-silence and vacation from writing has been both delightful and uncomfortable. A conversation with a young musician last week triggered some thoughts about words and silence. Thank you, Vicente.
A piece of music has more silence than notes. Without these pauses, a melody would be cacophony. 
Wordswithoutspacemakenosense. Words without space make no sense. 
Lifewithoutspacemakesnosense. Life without space makes no sense.
Truth may live in quiet solitude but it does disquiet. Yet the myths we create to justify our lives are far less satisfying. Others see clearly what we refuse to acknowledge. 
My fatigue, it seems, is not with language and its limits but with the way we humans use our vocabularies. Careless words, gossip and malicious slander kill the spirit of the speaker even as they decimate the target. Labels wound, divide, numb us to the possibility of peace, civility, and love. But words that build bridges bring us all to the table. Such words aren’t feel-good moments. Feelings are vastly over-rated. They change with passing moods. Authentic communication involves frankness and honesty as well as love and respect. Passionate discourse does not burst forth as scattered emotion but evolves from studied, rational thought. And humility.

Ah, humility. When I consider authors whose works I revere, what could I say that has not been said before? And better. This internal argument has prevented any progress for decades. How arrogant I have been. Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.” Adding, “Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” I am writing to discover my own truths. And to grow. To become better. Should you encounter these thoughts, I'm pleased to meet you in the ether. Perhaps something will trigger a discussion. Or not. I will never know. And this is good. I have come to understand that, when any of us moves forward honestly and with due diligence, the results are out of our hands. The reward is in the doing, in the discipline and love of the work before us. 

Perhaps this is a good time to re-visit the words of Rainer Marie Rilke:
I beg you . . . to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. 
To live the questions unafraid, patiently, to the place beyond need

To keep within myself a holy space

To experience soul in every encounter

To know that I and you and all creation - that WE - are beloved

Full of compassion 

Empty of self


This is a life’s journey 

Love and light to all...

* from The Weekly Reflection, September 5, 2011;  The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living


GretchenJoanna said...

There is so much to think about here. The Rilke quote is a gold mine in itself. I am about your age, and I also am learning every day how essential writing is to keeping my sanity.

I had put this post of yours aside with a label: "read when I have more time," and this morning I did have more time. I'm enjoying catching up a tiny bit, and rejoice with you in your marriage. Glory to God!

Celeste said...

I am so happy to have found a "neighbor" even before moving to California. So happy that we connected via the ether. I've really enjoyed following your recent travels and observations...new places to see. And now, after musing on your comment, another blog is brewing. Thanks! Love and light!