I ‘finished’ reading a marvelous book.
It will never be finished because it is the kind of book that can be read at different ages and it will always give you a new perspective. It has a kind of omniscience, this book. You can come to it again and again and it will refresh your stale footprint. It will throw cold water on your party dress. It will warm you like late afternoon sun. Such a fine book.
At the very ending of the book, the Grandmother gets up in the middle of the night and goes outside. It is very dark. She hears a boat going out to sea. Or so she thinks…
“Isn’t that funny,” Grandmother said. “It’s only my heart, it’s not a herring boat at all.” For a long time, she wondered if she should go back to bed or stay where she was. She guessed she would stay for a while.”
Imagine, ending a book with a heartbeat.
“Do you think I’m crazy to start a relationship with someone who has ended a twenty two year marriage?” M asks me.
I smile. The fact that he called me, someone who used to fling herself into love with the caution of a puppy, should give him his answer. “Have you slept together?”
“No. But we’ve kissed. She’s a really good kisser.”
Again, I smile. I’m glad we’re on the phone. M is the kind of person who gets agitated at the slightest hint of mockery. Even in curved lips.
“You sound worried. What are you worried about?” I ask.
Pause. Silence. I can hear him looking inside for the answer. I wait. I know that some fragment of truth is coming.
“That I’ll be in and she won’t be.”
“Yeah. I get it. That’s the risk.”
“I hate it.”
“That’s a lie. You love love.”
It’s M’s turn to be silent.
“It sounds to me like you are crossing a small threshold. Not big. Like marriage. Or moving in together. Or having a child. Small. Tell her. And then ask her if she’s crossing it with you.”
I don’t have to say the part about how, if she understands the question, if she says yes, this delicate threshold will pass beneath their feet. M understands these little events of the heart.
I’ve learned to savor them.
I’ve learned to notice every delicious step toward intimacy.
I’ve learned to pause after the eye twinkling flirt and linger a little longer in a conversation.
I’ve learned to relish how two different people come to understand each other.
I’ve learned to delight in each tiny threshold into love.
I don’t belong to a church. Or follow a religion. Or believe in any particular creation story. I love the mystery of existence and spirituality of sand dunes.
I understand the collective community of church. I defer to the safety of God and an agreed upon order of the universe. But really, the notion that I was born, that I grew and became me, that I exist is so fantastically accidental that I how could not be rapt by mystery?
Thich Nhat Hanh has returned to Vietnam to die. This man practiced the miracle of being alive every day. It is a miracle, that I am here thinking and tapping these thoughts, that I am able to walk outside and feel the mist on my face, that I can wash dishes or peel an orange or simply take a breath and feel the miracle of being alive.
Is that God?
Is that joy?
I told some dear friends yesterday about my inquiry into joy and one of them asked, “You want to be more joyful?”
No. That’s not it exactly.
I love it when the incorrect reflection of something I’ve said asks me to dig deeper.
I don’t want balloons and ribbons when I sit down to write. I want a deep sense of well being. I want a feeling of “there’s no place I’d rather be.” when I am writing. I want to feel safe and connected in my isolation of putting words on the page.
As a child, when I tucked myself into my closet-fort of books, I loved being in the embrace of my home, while my thoughts roamed the worlds of books and comics. The journey of growing up is quite lonely, really. Even with a house full of siblings or a classroom of friends. There is a sense, I think, in every child that they are the only one with these very feelings choking them, buoying them, mystifying them. We retreat into safe places and parse those feelings. Some of us do it through reading or writing or drawing or building stuff. It doesn’t matter how. It matters that we are trying to grow a connection to our curiosity, our genius, our hearts. Independent of others. Eventually we emerge. We keep becoming. We enter room after room and know ourselves better. Sometimes the obligations and achievements of our lives pull us far away from that little room where all is well, where well-being lives, where we can be alone and connected and brilliant and whole and safe.
I want to feel that kind of joy every day when I write.
It’s hard to stay awake and present. 24/7. Impossible, probably . So we put things in place that allow us to go on autopilot. Habits. Rituals. Traditions. Sometimes, they’re good for us, e.g. working out everyday. But even those rituals get stale, and we need to change it up. (You can’t work out the same muscle groups over and over.) I suppose that’s why people implement New Year’s Resolutions. We want to change our habits. We want to feel different. We want to refresh ourselves. We want to unburden ourselves from the yoke of habits, rituals and traditions, and feel the “want” instead of the “should.”
I think these habits, rituals and traditions can get in the way of joy. Sure, if I show up everyday to write, then at least I’m there, ready, in case something great happens. Habits carry us through the bad times, the dull times, the hard spots. But at some point you have to fight your way through the fog of ritual and question, do I really love what I am doing? Do I feel alive? Excited?
Yeah, I know. Sometimes even asking that question is scary. Why upset the apple cart? Maybe it’s better to plod forward yoked to habit, hoping to feel that fabulous excitement in a life I chose thirty years ago.
I don’t know. I really don’t know.