Wednesday, April 9, 2014

To Have These Gifts Approved

In My Long Night
by Charles Simic

I have toiled like a spider at his web
In the dome of a church
Where only the upraised eyes of martyrs
In their torments could see me.

Where one cold spring day,
With rumors of war in the air,
My young parents brought me
To be baptized by the priest.

Where years after, my grandmother
Was to lie in an open coffin
Looking pleased to be done with
Having to bury other people.

Where I once saw a crow walk in,
Lured by the gold on the altar
And the light the candles cast,
While I dangled up there by a thread.

from Master of Disguises, copyright Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

Two nights ago, while making the short trek from my car to our front door, I witnessed the following scene two doors down, the site you may remember as home of the feral baby.

EXT. Neighborhood street - night.  Two adolescent girls teeter down sidewalk on bikes.

FIRST GIRL:  The rock candy takes a couple of days.  The marshmallows (pauses, calculating) a couple of hours.  (Turns head to house)  Jeremy!  What are you doing outside without clothes on? 

SECOND GIRL: (Looking at house) Jeremy, put some pants on!  Aren't you cold? 

I couldn't see this Jeremy but I'm pretty sure I know what he looks like: toddling, blond, nude most hours of the day.   Last night, I saw a boy I could only assume was Jeremy tossing a juice box over the fence into our neighbor's driveway.  I know it's wrong but the tossed box and the rock that followed it, along with the little boy's assurance to his big sister, "I'll just throw one more," delighted me. 

In other news, the March issue of O magazine had an interesting article about loneliness and connection called "Just Say Hello" that cites a statistic that "roughly 60 million Americans [suffer] from loneliness."  Loneliness was defined as passing but "acute" melancholy as well as "a yearning for someone to truly know you, get you, see you." 

This yearning to be truly known reminded me of something I read once that rocked my socks off.  I was reading a book called The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual, and Community by Malidoma Patrice Somé (while swinging in a hammock, no less, beneath the pine tree in our back yard which is, in essence, one big patch of dirt).  I have referenced this book before on this blog and while I have never actually finished it, now that I am collecting books like an ivory tower on my bed table and hammering through them as I recover from the gift of sciatic spasms at my late stage of pregnancy, maybe I will add it to the pile.  

In any case, here is what I read years ago that made my hairs stand on end:

"Whether they are raised in indigenous or modern culture, there are two things that people crave: the full realization of their innate gifts, and to have these gifts approved, acknowledged, and confirmed" (italics mine).

When I read that passage, I suddenly had a word for the chronic yearning I was experiencing, which was a need for the acknowledgement of gifts.  Sometimes it takes another to see us before we can fully see ourselves.  This is how we heal each other, I believe, and something profound happened when I met a mentor who recognized my talents and confirmed them for me.  As part of this exchange, I was able to fully claim my abilities as an artist and stop worrying about how the clairvoyance and supernatural qualities of bringing spirit to matter freaked out some people.  I came to see my impulses to offer beauty through words and images as a strength rather than a liability I had to hide from other people. 

I may always struggle to stand behind the activities that come most naturally to me (drawing animals, talking about feelings, urging people to take care of themselves above any other demand on them), but where I used to see these activities as a burden, an embarrassment of delicacy in a loud, abusive world, I now see them as a kind of medicine.  To skip doses of the medicine I need is to become unwell, so I try to obey these needs of my heart.  The older I get, the more second nature this obedience becomes.  Without my health, I have nothing to offer anyone else, and offering something that comes as natural as breathing to me is one of the greatest pleasures I've found in this life.  

In a section of his book, a section called Healing, Art, and Community, Somé writes about the power of the artist to heal a community.  Calling the artist "the pulse of the community," he says:

"Community can create a container for natural abilities that can find no place in a world defined by economics and consumerism...Artistic ability, the capacity to heal, and the vision to see into the Other World are connected for indigenous people.  In my village there is only a thin line between the artist and the healer.  In fact, there is no word in the Dagara language for art.  The closest term to it would be the same word as sacred." 

Last week, I sought out a semi-famous mentor in my town, a person Tim jokingly called The Oracle, as in, When are you going to see The Oracle?  Though we had slotted two hours together, I spoke to this man for just thirty minutes.  In fact, as I drove to this man's house, I knew he did not have what I needed and feared we had nothing to say to one another, a fact that shortly proved itself true. 

However, while I marveled at two massive chairs carved from gnarled wood in his living room, the oracle told me about a woman he met at sixteen who later became his wife.  He brought out a picture and told me that his long marriage to this woman was what healed him and gave  him all the courage in his long, prosperous life.  This was the story I had come to hear. 

In my own life, I know this kind of healing.  I experience it on a daily basis in my own marriage and can honestly say that every good thing in my adult life stems from the support my husband gives me. 

When I was a young single person, I remember people saying how hard marriage was, and though it was hard, it was worth all the sacrifice.  Now I think of those people like corrupt pastors trying desperately not to sleep with their secretaries (again).  Marriage has been, for me, one of the best things I have ever taken on.  This is not to say that Tim and I agree on everything, that we don't fight about chores, the color maroon, and how much chard belongs in a person's diet, or that we don't occasionally sit through crappy movies at the other person's request, but the sanctuary that the right person can offer to a sensitive individual is invaluable.  In my case, it has been life-changing.  

I hope, too, that for all the stories about the difficulties of raising children, there are gems and miracles hiding inside, just as there were for me in all the warnings about marriage.  Maybe we all need a little more credit for the efforts that go into raising children (or marriage, for that matter).  It isn't a game, and it may not come that naturally to the wilds in many of us.  I get why people need to let off a little air about the subject of child-rearing, and how they might feel the need to warn you that your life is about to change.  But I'm also going to go out on a limb and guess that family can contain as much magic, play, and community as the right life partner can, and that's why I'm placing my bets on the little green branch of this family tree that we are growing.

Finally, I want to give my mother a shout-out for being one of those people who have always said good things about marriage and children.  I've never heard a cross word from her about men or the art of raising kids, and that kind of healthy environment, I am certain, has kept my heart open to both throughout the years.  That kind of encouragement makes this next stage of life - parenting alongside a really nice person - one I truly look forward to.

And so, I hope that each of you finds at least one person to see you fully, to acknowledge your gifts and confirm them.  In my experience, it only takes one other biped, and it doesn't matter what shape that relationship takes or even how long it lasts.  Of course, that kind of support is bouyed by all the other lost souls we claim as friends, the mentors who rain love on our thirsty ground, and the spaces like this one here, where I've found so much healing, thanks to your receptivity and shared creativity.  So thanks for reading and more importantly, taking the wild shape that only you in this life can take. 

With love,