|Essay from March 2010
(Harry was not able to write an essay for March. I have selected one of his older pieces to run this month. It is undated and as far as I can tell has not been previously published. ZLG)|
I stare at the calendar and think, "The squares are days, the days of my life. I make my little plans, and even some big ones, as if I were in charge of the process."
I write on the calendar in pencil, so that changes in my plans can be made. I have learned that if I note some future plan on the calendar in ink, something inevitably comes up to prevent that event from occurring. The use of the pencil, and its eraser, preserves the illusion that I am the one in charge here, still in charge, in spite of the fact that those other things that keep "coming up" are hardly my doing.
In the night thoughts come to me that frighten me and threaten me and remind me that I haven't done this, or that, that the time for doing this or trying that is almost past, that it's soon going to be entirely too late.
I wonder if I should try to impose some kind of control over the night-time thought process. The pencil on the calendar works during waking hours. "Is such control possible?" I wonder. "Don't night thoughts come from the same place that interruptions of plans come from? outside there, somewhere? Maybe I should admit that I'm not really in control of much of anything. And maybe I need to get to the point of saying that it doesn't matter. How does it matter? To whom does it matter?"
"Whence," I ask myself, "comes this impulse to understand who and what I am in the midst of a very complex larger process? Whence the notion that my understanding of that, my point of view on that, is worth sharing? These impulses come from outside of me, it feels, and take me over, and make me feel miserable, to the extent that I let them. Why do I let them?"
So far, I'm not quite sure that my efforts to understand, and to share that understanding by writing about it, are worth the effort. I have had direct experience of the insight that Virginia Woolf gave voice to: "He shared the delusion of all writers, that things written are shared." Persons I thought were my dear friends decline to read what I try to share with them. Their interest in my insides is feigned, it turns out, and I found that painful, at first.
I now assume that any comparison of myself with other writers will always be unhelpful. This, for me, is a lonely inner thing, and has nothing to do with results or rewards. I just have to do it, because the impulse to do it is there. The old metaphor of the Muse is helpful. Sometimes it verges on literal truth. She grasps me by the back of the neck and says, "sit thee down, and do it. write it. Just write it. Don't ask why."
My old kinship with ancient Hebrew prophets, which I thought I had renounced for good, comes back to me again and again. Evidently it cannot be renounced. A masculine Muse barks at me. "You're not obeying the Inner voice, living out the metaphor that has been assigned to you, and writing it in pages for a book -- you don't do that for your own satisfaction, for some reward. You do it because you can't not. So do it, and quit bitching."
I try to answer back. "Sometimes I think what I'm producing is a collection of carved cherry stones."
"If that isn't bitching, it's whining. Just do the work." I recall how Jeremiah complained, to the Source of his inspiration:
"Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
wilt thou be to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail?"
I also recall that beautifully understated answer that came to the old prophet:
"If you have raced with men on foot,
and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you fall down,
how will you do in the jungle of the Jordan?"
Jeremiah did it, because he couldn't not.
"If I say, 'I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,'
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot."
So here I am, the calendar-watcher, working still on my
One day I found myself sitting in the sun on a park bench with a stranger. "What do you do?" the stranger asked.
"Oh, a writer. What have you published?"
"I don't publish. I write."
"Oh. What do you write?" the stranger asked.
Before I could stop myself, I snarled, "I write Scripture."
"Oh. That's interesting." The stranger stood and walked away.
I continued explaining, to the birds and the chipmunks and the trees and the air. "What I write will become the subject of exegesis and hermeneutics. It will be carved in granite, quoted in sentimental special occasion cards, preached from the housetops --and ignored." Inside myself I discovered that I had come to understand something. One can sever connections to popes and presbyteries, but that inner conviction of Truth is something else, closer than breathing, deeper than ego, stronger than prudence.
At my desk, I look again at the calendar, and wonder how many of those squares are left, for me to fill with pencil marks, goading myself to do this and try that --how long before the gradual bodily slow-down and break-down will become the all-important factor, and finally the only factor. "There is not an infinite supply of squares. Our days are numbered. Perhaps our incarnations are not, but we are in this one now, and within this one, one must live now, one day at a time."
The early morning rising time is most precious to me. I throw off the oppressive thoughts of night and open the window blind and look out at the world. Then I look at today's square on the calendar, give thanks for this new day, make my paltry plans, always planning more than mortal can do, and go after the day's adventures with a will. As the day wears on and the score mounts up --"Is anyone keeping score?" I wonder --the enthusiasm wanes and I run out of day at about the same time that I run out of energy.
I never go hungry; I shed tears and sweat, but not blood; I even have an understanding companion to share it all with. It is really not a bad life. Mine is really a very good life. It's the old habit of evaluation that oppresses. That awful "should," and that even more disabling "should have." Can that not be stopped? I should work on that.