Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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In my tenderest fantasies of people I love but don’t want to scare with my feelings, I lay down with them and nap with them and feel full of us. Anybody I can’t comfortably reduce to a two or three-year-old child, I have a hard time relating to. Even those I see on the street and don’t know but am touched by, I reduce to toddlers. And we are playing together and then nap together side by side and I wake, but don’t move, and just feel the closeness of this person next to me, listen to their quiet breathing and lack of self-consciousness, so naked, and marvel that “he/she lives a completely different life from mine, but here we are together.”
It began with Debbie, when we were little, and I spent the night with her, my first time away from home. After we went to bed, we counted cars on the highway because I couldn’t sleep. Then, her breathing got quiet and I heard the furnace come on down the hall, and her daddy cough in the bathroom, and I was amazed at how big the world was; this was so different from home, four houses away. I remember the blackness of night, and her soft breath, and the comfort of my own familiar consciousness and thinking, “She thinks, just like I can think. What does it feel like to be Debbie?” I watched her sleeping and thought she was beautiful and wished I had blonde hair and blue eyes and pink cheeks. I could SEE her outer beauty so well, but the mystery of what it was like to BE Debbie kept me awake a long time, my baby consciousness putting little fingers on the windowpanes of her mind, trying hard to get inside and SEE. I went to sleep with her phone number dancing in my head, 536-4321.
I’ve been slushy inside with the weight of unanswered questions. But the simplicity of the apple trees in bloom has quieted me. A feverish child soothed by the freedom of warm nights, open windows, night sounds coming in, breaking my fever, making me quiet. Little owl on my shoulder, I am in my own way answering his “WHO?” with the same question, both of us knowing the answer is as long as life.
When I’m feeling this simplicity about life, I begin to blow it-doesn’t-matter kisses across the table at people who are trying to tell me their troubles. That can kill a conversation. It’s not easy to retract, and start over. So it DOES matter; let’s bat the ball back and forth. All we’re doing is loving each other even when I’m twisting my hair round my little finger and you are tiptoeing around me trying to break the news that you’re ready to leave now.
The immediate lesson that again and again keeps coming to me is “one first of all keeps working on himself . . . in other words, a peaceful person is the first criterion if you want to have a peaceful universe. You start with the universe you’ve got, which is your own being.” Reading those words of Ram Dass jived with what I was thinking the other day in the woods. I was sitting in an old thought pattern (that may have had legitimacy at another time). I was feeling guilty, I was looking at all the obvious calling cards I’d created as a reflection of the local yokel’s spiritual establishment. I was thinking “Gee, I still like chicken and gravy and Coca Colas and I don’t know a thing about yoga or why sugar will kill you, and Jesus Christ I shave my legs and am vain enough so I didn’t want to go to town when my lip puffed up twice its size night before last! I haven’t been to a formal meditation in ages, and I don’t feel like going, especially if I have to hug everybody in the whole room and SMILE while I’m really thinking about the emptiness of overused gestures. And, I mean face it, I can’t stand to hear Steve eat raw potatoes or ice.”
Looking at those aspects of my life, form aspects, personality aspects, spending so much time mulling over them, is a WASTE. It’s the same misconception I’ve been tending too often, that God and TRUTH will be found somewhere OUT THERE, in a guru, in a psychic experience, in my own notes of “right living.” It is a misconception I deny again and again within myself; because I speak so loudly about learning to love others, I forget the immediate lesson that a peaceful universe starts with learning to LOVE MYSELF, even the personality aspects with which I disagree. It’s hard to START on that peaceful universe within when you’re constantly calling yourself down for being something less than your ideals, losing energy unnecessarily over it, developing very apologetic aspects of self that cry out, “Kick me, kick me, I’m selfish and I rarely wash behind my ears.”
I cannot worry that my life, my daily actions are not totally reflective of the truths I see. I will never become a totally true reflection of what I KNOW and AM because then I’d be dead; I WILL NEVER ARRIVE; there IS no finishing point, no “ascension,” no grandiose perfection. There is only the divine gift of my own free will, to choose in what manner or sequentiality I BECOME. It is not up to anyone else; no one else can do it for me.
Maintenance of the inner vision is the purest, straightest path at this time for me, so quit worrying about form (personality); it will take care of itself if I’ll just take care of the inner. (S.: “There is no better or worse, there is simply whatever you are doing.”)
Don’t worry about writing being a cop-out; self can and does talk to self, and as my conceptions of self unfold, so does the God within unfold, and that is the only God I’ll ever be able to relate to.
Don’t degrade that God you are relating to, even if you are relating through illusion. That’s okay, I’ll give it up when I’m ready. Like the time we played back a tape of a meditation and mistook the sound of a distant motorcycle on the street outside for a roar of pleasure from one of the Masters. I even got goosebumps! I feel tenderness, even for me as the Goofiest of Gods, seeking out the voices of the Eternal in the roar of a distant motorbike. Even illusion carries the perfection of divinity within it if you SEE it there. (T.: “You know, even in those sex magazines where people are in all these strange contortions and poses of surrender, isn’t it the same gesture, the same longing for union with something that will fulfill forever?”)
Love yourself. Love is a healer, uplifter, the raiser of visions. And as the raiser of visions, it is the ability to transcend your current self-conceptions — even the ones you dislike, the ones you think do not reflect your ideals.
The words “give up,” “surrender” don’t have a negative connotation when you realize YOU are creating yourself as the student, as the teacher, as all the landmarks along the way, the local psychics, the guys on the other planes of reality you talk to; they’re only part of the illusion, they are props in a play that are helping you along, giving you your cues, and nobody’s going to make you put them away until you SEE that.
GLIMPSING this something that is behind the landmarks, the creations of self, personality, that’s what I’m after. Writing has helped me see what I’m NOT. I used to think, “I am what I think, therefore I am what I write.” That self-concept was never heartily alive, and crushed itself as the magnification of the written thoughts on a published page brought the issue to a head. It was easier to see; who wrote all that stuff? That’s not ME. It’s a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. Understanding that I am not my thoughts has taken me closer to the Presence that obviously directs my life. I Am.
Nothing more. Nothing less. Sitting in that spot, I have a hard time putting any sort of model on it, any thoughts of observation, any efforts to place myself in a hierarchical framework. All of those thoughts take me AWAY from my I AM, ten feet away, a Yashica around my neck, as I try to snap a quick photo of the I AM sitting there. So much NO-WHERE because the universe lies within IT.
When we saw Jim on the beach last Sunday I thought of what I’d told Steve on the drive down the day before (“If we see my cousin he probably won’t have any more to say to us than we will to him”). We’d laughed about his Porsche and real estate investments and how shocked he’d be if he could see us in our little tinroofed house.
Sitting in the sand with him, I sat deep inside myself, waiting for us to finish going through our motions so we could leave. I didn’t really listen to what we were saying until he began asking about our garden. He was really interested because he had a garden, too, and as I talked, he slowly reeled me in, out of my cocoon, and I opened my eyes and looked at him for the first time and he was smiling at me, he cared.
Walking back to the cottage, I laughed out loud at us. “We are such turkeys. I mean, look at us. We were going to walk right on by. HE came more than halfway, we didn’t. THAT’s what matters.”
I need to work on my ability to GIVE UP my immediate beliefs, perceptual framework, my preconceived notions about where another person is at. That takes a certain kind of flexibility, a willingness to become, to leave yourself behind. “Thy will, not my will” doesn’t mean following cosmic guidebooks or spokespersons, it means being willing to give up your own prejudices, your own self-concept, seeing beyond the separated self to the outstretched hand of the universe. It means being willing to meet people on their own terms if it appears there will be no meeting at all unless you do. It means not confusing the terms, the vehicle for being together, with the more real BEING THERE, being God smiling back at God.
That same reaching out I swore to myself I would honor forever after the night at that lecture where nobody showed up but heavyduty psychics and me and one lady who ran out the door when she figured out nobody else was coming. I was uncomfortable, being my shyest self, listening to them discuss cosmic things and stare at each other’s auras and make slow, heavy statements that seemed to ring with meaning for everybody but me. I spoke only once the entire hour, and that was when everything was quiet. I said, “It sure seems like everything is happening awful fast.” Everybody looked at me and I turned red and looked at the floor, waiting for them to look away, and when I looked up again the old gentleman across from me was looking at me and he loved me. After the meeting was over, he came over to me and said, “I appreciated your comment, you are right, everything is happening quickly.” It was all I could do not to cry on the spot because he was so kind to speak to me.
Sitting here with the last fire of winter, filled up with your presence. Why is it so hard to say hello after all this time? Why the tears? Because I love you and I always cry when I’m happy. You’re here because I called, and I didn’t mean to, I just began to sit in the Weldon kitchen in my head, in my chair where I faced you over dinner for 19 years, Mama on the right and Kack on the left.
It is Father’s Day, 1971, and we both know it is the last. You watched me memorize your face, remembering you squatting on your knees, arms open to children that ran to you instinctively no matter where you were, especially girl children, and as I look at you I know my eyes look just like yours do when you are most beautiful, spilling out, rain drops meeting in greatest intimacy with the greenest, lushest spots at the bottom of our hill.
Sunlight casts no shadows round you now and I love you still. It’s so funny how I never really miss you or anybody until I’m with you, and then I’m overwhelmed by us together, it is so nice I never want to part.
You cried when you tried to bless the food, and I thought, you know, you know. And when our eyes met, you said silently to me, don’t remind me, not as a reprimand but because these moments, this coming together, was a last blooming lily which I should not point at but rather unfurl my own petals in harmony with yours.
The most extraordinary things are already here, and when I meet them face to face, I realize I have already met them in some irrational way that doesn’t fall into linear thought at all, and this calms me. I visit his departure point, like a tourist on the runway of a giant airport staring up at the sky; the intensity of that August 14 is as easy for me to find as my car keys in my purse.
When I watched him die, I felt no horror, only fascination with the way the goosebumps popped up on his arms, and slowly crawled higher up to his neck, his ears, and vvvwwhhoosssssh, there’s not a thing there now except a dishevelled assortment of old clothes I’m really not very interested in. The invisible calm of the inner movement is a miracle, powerful and gently beautiful. I felt privileged to watch, to witness the truth that there is nothing unnatural about this that signifies birth and death.
My eyes linger on his hands, strong brown hands, and I remember pleasantly the way he washed them, never in a hurry, building up the lather slowly, with the lava soap, standing in front of the kitchen sink, rinsing, and then a quick shake to get off the excess water.
Complete identification now with the notion that I am in a play and I frantically try to remember my lines. Pick up the phone. I can’t find the number just like in the dream so I call Nancy to call for help. The rescue men come in just as my voice says, “Many came to take him,” and I feel foolish, realizing they think I am talking about them. The innocently gawking neighbors who have irrelevantly rushed over think I am grief stricken. That rushing noise, is it inside my head or out? Like a thousand birds taking off all at once through the trees.
It never seemed like a death in the family until the people started coming. Up the driveway, through the doors, from every direction. The giant greenness of the tops of the trees, rising out of the depths of the ravine, lean towards the house and ask me timidly, “?” and then again in a few minutes, “?” And my only reply is a soft “I don’t know, I don’t know what’s happening.”
Food piled up in the kitchen, the dining room and downstairs, and overflowed to Mamam’s house, and people piled up in the corners of the rooms, alternating between soft undercurrents of somber talk that would slowly rise to a roar as they forgot why they’d come, and then they’d remember, and it would die back down again.
I was unable to turn to them for comfort; comfort was not what I needed. I needed normality, even normality without Daddy was O.K. with me. I was not comforted by the sickening sweet smell of flowers and old women in the hall bathroom whose names I couldn’t remember but who grabbed me and hung onto my arm plying my eyes for a sign of grief. When thanking Mrs. H. for coming “to pay her respects” I crossed my eyes and spoke with a lisp and she never noticed. That depressed me so much I went in the pink bathroom and locked the door and sat down on the toilet facing the full length mirror and examined my face. It was blank. It looked like my second grade school picture, still, solemn, and expressionless, unable to relate to the camera’s eye.
The normality I was seeking was so far away, hidden in a thick musty book, a footnote about the faraway future. So there was nothing to do but be right where I was. I can see now, I didn’t try very hard to give. I was too busy looking at my own bruises, bruises from colliding with others’ conceptions of death, and my own. I knew I was being perceived as cold and insensitive, or as being numbed by shock. But I wasn’t, I was just puzzled that society’s idea of how to integrate a “death” into your life was so different from my own.
All the questions that had to be answered sounded so futile and silly, but had to be answered. Do you want an autopsy? Who shall be the pallbearers? Who can put up the out-of-towners? BE SURE to write down that Mrs. S. brought a casserole of chicken and rice. Have you got any more glasses downstairs? Somebody go and get some ice. What’s the matter, honey, do you want a tranquilizer?
I’m not trying to make it sound hard, or bad. It was just so curious. An unexpected dance partner that wanted to do the hustle when I didn’t see the necessity of dancing at that moment at all.
Driving back from the funeral in the big black car; we are almost home now. I see our dogs sitting quietly on their haunches on the sidewalk in front of the Wellman’s. They should be in the car too, I say, my lips pursed. Nobody hears. I cry my first tears.
Elizabeth Rose Campbell