Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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June 24 — In bed, with a bad back. This is where the pain tells me to stay, though I resist. The ego won’t stand for this slowdown, though it enjoys playing with the irony of how I hurt myself — practicing karate kicks, learning “self-defense.” So, it turns the pain into an “interesting lesson” — of what, precisely, it doesn’t say — yet a lesson it would quickly be done with, since the flavor’s gone and I’m still chewing, chewing, chewing.
June 29 — These memories from childhood — what is there to say? There are tears, not many words. There’s a lifetime of striving to be lovable, swimming against the current of my own body and thoughts, making camp in the ashes of someone else’s fire — a lover, a guru. There’s the pain denied so many times, in so many ways, that I know its disguises in others, can tell an honest man from a block away: he sways on his vulnerability, no flower but fully human, bends to his breeze, weeps in his rain.
July 2 — My selves come together in a circle to pray. They face the emptiness at the center. They stare down the dark street. They sit in the room without windows or chairs. They are blindfolded and penniless, but smiling. They sing the ancient note with voices that have sung nothing else since time began. It fills the room with shining sound. It is a small fish darting in and out of their ears. It is my prayer answered: dry sticks making a fire, tiny flame warming flesh, spirit rising like sparks.
July 3 — My possessiveness, of “things,” of people as things. My need to arrange, to order my world. Perhaps, when I was a child, it was safer to find security in things than in feelings. But now? How long do I keep insisting on an environment that reflects back to me order as a way of denying my own disorder? It keeps me from me, just like loveless sex, drugs, or too much talking: detours from pain and therefore roadblocks to joy. They give me security — momentary and feigned — but no safety, no happiness.
July 13 — Everyone’s love is conditional. How can I expect my parents, who never saw an example of unconditional love, to have shown it to me? There’s only one source of that love. If I’m busy knocking on other doors, I never come to the only door I need open.
July 14 — At the ocean, ambition becomes watery: to sleep more, to understand dreams. The pounding of the waves is me knocking on the door of life, of love, of understanding. The shoreline changes. The sound is deafening, soothing, soon ignored. Everything eventually is ignored. The ocean becomes water. My parents become shadows. But to pay attention is all that matters.
My father’s ghost rides the waves, calls to me over my daughters’ glee in sunlit splashing, rattles in its rusty armor, begs me to tell it where it is, how it got here, how come nothing stands still. I talk to him with salt. One tear for yes, two for no. Seven oceans, one world. No other fathers. He was the one. One wave suspended for the only son.
I write while my children sleep. How to be a better father? Kinder, more patient, without storm and spray at their childishness, letting the old hull of my selfishness go down without a glance, seeing what they see in every moment: buried treasure, attention the key. Does the key get lost? Deep in the pocket, sideways between the lint of the past and the big wad of ego, the handkerchief for endless tears, the scented handkerchief that always smells like me. The key is to keep the key handy, on a string around the neck, there where truth is spoken.
July 15 — The difference between a twosome and a marriage — not just you and me, but you, me, and us: a self greater than its parts, demanding different skills and a different surrender.
July 16 — The jigsaw puzzle I bought the children is about one-fourth done. Sara stood over it yesterday, lips tight with concentration, brushing her curls away from her eyes, diligently figuring out what fit, what didn’t.
The way we stand over our lives, by turns frustrated, exhilarated.
“Look, Daddy, how much I got done.”
Is that work or play?
July 17 — She waits for me in her halo of light on the dark road ahead. We say we walk it together but we also walk it alone, surprised again and again by some unexpected fear or courage in the other, the set of the jaw, the glint in the eye, the shadows our faith would dispel. The world is a long night that ends the same for everyone. Through the night we huddle around the tiny fires called prayer or tenderness or devotion, the fires big enough for one or two or three or four or five — a family, like souls, lost in a dream of flesh and longing but turning restlessly, waking up, perhaps staying awake for a while.
July 21 — Oh parents who loved me with a love impure, who taught me stuttering and called it song, what do I say to you? Mother whose flesh forbade my touch. Father whose flesh I could not bear, so loud it screamed its bigness, its stupid distinction. Shall I say, father, it was the smoke of your cigar that made the dragon’s mouth, your pain that made the face of the world, your size that made you small? And that the fear that sat on its haunches in the dark center of you, king of you, cruel master with whip urging you to eat, eat, eat and make its magnificent domain swell — shall I say this bellyful of loveless life nourished not a single cell? Blame is a flame that burns the blamer; and no more heat do I wish to pour upon your scalded brow, bulging with headaches that ate your screams unscreamed as you mercilessly hammered your head against the wall. What do I say to the wife who could not save you, nor you her. That your marriage was a stale loaf you ate only because starvation stood beside the groaning table, its sour breath driving you to the newspaper, her to bed before the rest of us, her kingdom of forbidden sweets and dreams. What shall I say to you two ordinary people who ferried me across the waters of birth, so that I sit here saying to you I want to forgive what is hard to forgive, to love what wounds insist I can’t. What shall I say now that the past has found me? The safety of the years I put between us, the armor of denial, the steel of an easily-purchased faith in phony self are gone, and in the naked timelessness of then and now, what do I say? About to marry for the third time, to face fears I learned from you as birds the air, to follow love through landscapes you said no one could survive, to throw back the chair and dance on a floor that can only collapse, you said, oh my parents, my left and right, my sun and moon, I say, I say, I say. . . .
July 30 — Christ, I am too lost in myself to say your name out loud, to reach for the door which will swing open at a touch but which my mind prefers to pound with fists which never touch but only wail their embarrassed pain, fists with small eyes that regard themselves in misery’s reflection, calling this “the world,” calling this “a life,” when the truth is different by far. To say your name, to unclench my fists, to awaken from a dream of time and pain — why is this so hard?
July 31 — Too early in the morning to be wise. Too late in my life not to be.
This wedding day starts like other days: the alarm beats my dreams with a stick, prods me out of bed and into this place, to sit like a stick, remembering dreams like falling leaves, the spreading majesty of me recalled at last and in the next breeze forgotten.
I am alone, or I am alone with God. Nothing in these early hours obscures the choice; that is why I love and hate this solitary time.
July 31 — Norma, your nervousness I trust, admire. For to say being married “makes no difference” is a lie. A different circle we enter, a mystical geography, a church with dark corners and unbelievable smells. Of course, the feet shuffle instinctively, the heart, uncommanded, skips a beat. Of course the air parts for the word no longer a joke or a plan but finally a holy invocation. We talk about what it means but we have no idea. We talk and talk and silence comes up behind us, breathing lightly with a trembling lip.
August 16 — I got up early, though I was tired. I thank my sleepy self.
I fasted yesterday, but ate some bread before going to sleep. I thank my hungry self, my less-than-perfect self.
I was quiet at S.’s party. I thank my quiet self.
I thank my sorrows, I thank my shape, I thank the suit of days, custom-made.
I thank God for turning me toward God, for showing me how to farm this rocky hill of Self and make me grow. I thank the prize for the loser, the tears for the shame, the morning for the night it rained.
August 19 — Down and up the human stairway, trying locked doors, spending good money on keys that don’t work, or that open doors to other stairways even more dimly lit, a single bulb for a thousand dreams, so that dreams are hardly remembered, or stairways that grow steeper as you climb, so that one step may take a lifetime, and the next step may defy a lifetime.
August 26 — P. reminds me we’re all separate and that regularly asking someone how they feel is just another dodge, a way of finding out: do you still like me? “I don’t trust all this talk about feelings,” she says, “even though I am a therapist.”
The challenge is to be caring without usurping the space between, with the need to “know,” with sympathy, with talk. What lives in that space is love’s secret body, the moon’s hidden face, faithful to its own orbit, to cycles of touch and absence, communion and self-absorption. What lives there is separateness, seed of union, which grows not in neat rows but wildly, and must be allowed its wildness; otherwise the garden is saved, and we’re lost.
August 30 — Plans, ambitions, self-improvement schemes: lust of a different kind, my own body provoking me, body of dreams swaying in the moonlight, teasing the One inside who sits silently, mind grinding its hips against time, time itself wet and open, promising satisfactions, promising everything.
August 30 — I climb the stairs of my life and get no closer.
The mountain rises without moving.