As I’ve been working with the five questions this year, it has become uncomfortably evident that I am avoiding question five: “What is the new creation that wants to be born in and through me?” It seems kind of new-agey and airy fairy and I didn’t want to even think about having to investigate and explain.
But then today I was looking back at a notebook I have been writing in the past few months. It began on October 12th, after meeting with my writing group. I decided that each morning I would write very first thing, upon awakening. I kept up with it pretty good for about a month, and then fell off when I had a lot of things going on and I was sick with a virus for a month. Sporadically, now, I’ve been getting back to it, with the help of some writing prompts provided by Laurie, one of my writing circle members.
The piece of writing the morning of November 15th is the one that caught my eye today. I had used advice from a workshop presenter at the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference. He said use the last line of a poem as a prompt. That day, I read a poem called “Walking in the Mountains in the Rain” by Wang Wei. The last line was this: “I can hear boatmen singing.”
That line took me back to an October evening in 1998. It had been a rough year for me. I had suffered depression and the unexpected loss of my dear father. My life was starting to change in a number of ways and I just needed some grounding. With that in mind, my friend Kate and I decided to go to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. It was a convenient location as a family cabin was nearby in Ashe County, North Carolina, where we could stay. The cabin was like a second home to me, and it was decided that my husband’s aunt would be there and attend the festival with us. Aunt Joanne was dealing with a lot of her own grief at the time, having lost her husband, brother, and mother all within a two year period. Kate, Joanne, and I attended the festival together on a Sunday, and when we got back to the cabin that evening we parked ourselves on the dark porch overlooking the foggy New River. Here is what I wrote:
Grief is the loon singing on a foggy river winding through the mountains on a crisp October night. Grief is the creaking of a rocking chair in the wind, empty of the one we love. Grief filled the air on that porch on the cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains as stories were told and lives were relived — lives that seem like dust and feathers –light and easily gone.
My sinuses ached as I lie on the lounge and listened to the conversation. I was in and out and missed much that later my friend Kate would tell me of the stories Joanne told that night — dancing and first meetings and children born. The ideal life, the decisions made, the legacy that wished to be built that would eventually crumble. The children now grown — one taken through infection and diabetes, the other alcoholic, broken and mean.
It never seems fair when grief is piled on, one sorrowful event following another. We move through days as if we are walking in the river, moving slowly, trying to find footing, the rocks slippery and bone-denting. We avoid the rapids and stay in stillness, see life passing by all around us and yet, everything is surreal and brilliant. The boatmen sing so they know where they are. Their voices echo and remind us there is still work to be done.
After reading this, I thought about the creation of this piece and how it was born out of one step following another. The decision to leave high school and teach middle school to allow more time to write; the decision to start a writing group, which in turn inspired me to pick up the pen each morning and write; the decision to attend the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference and employ what I learned there. This is creation. This is how things are born. I cannot just “look inside” and suddenly see it being born. I have to look for clues. This was a wonderful revelation to me! As Anne Lamott said in her last Facebook missive: “So Rumi. So Wavy Gravy.” It’s about allowing our experience to inform us. It’s about daily decisions that build and move us in new directions. It is our way of being the boatmen singing so that we know where we are. We may not remember the song, but it brought us to where we stand.
“Don’t grieve. Everything you lose comes round in another form.” – Rumi
“I always say dare to struggle, dare to grin.” — Wavy Gravy