Need To Know Basis

“Courage, dear heart.” C.S. Lewis

There is a saying that I’ve come to appreciate in the last couple of years: I don’t have to see the whole stair case to take the next step. This is pretty much the way I set my sails today. I stopped asking life the question, “Why?” a while ago. The answers, if there ever were any, were never satisfactory. There are no good reasons why I lose a job, a dear one dies, a child suffers, a country is in poverty, or a world is melting.  I’ve come to realize that even if I did know the answers, I might not have the faculties to truly comprehend them. So I go back to my little staircase.

Often my toe has to feel for the next step. What if I trip? What if it hurts? What if it’s too big? What if I’m not enough? All questions that should be filed under the “Why” file, but I’m a sweet child, and I often forget. When I stopped asking, “Why?” I had to shift my perception to the idea that there was a purpose to my momentum forward. Asking, “What if?” only brings me up short. It’s inspiration that lifts my foot and leans me towards the next step. That’s another lesson recently learned: inspiration doesn’t show up until I put my hand on the knob, step out in my running shoes, sit down in front of the page… it hovers until there is action for it to flow through. Then it comes. So I I close my eyes and take the step.

Another saying, roughly: when I take the first step towards the universe, it rushes forward to meet me. Yes. This is my experience as well. It seems, again, that I’m given precisely, at that precious moment, what I need to move forward. And so, I know that my needs are met in increments, piecemeal, to the tiny step I take in understanding. It’s almost like a mystical treadmill. I take the step in faith that the moving belt will appear under my foot at the speed in which I need it to move in order to keep from falling. If I stop, for fear of falling or stumbling, the progress is halted. At least until I lean forward once more.

But what if I don’t have the strength to move forward? What if I’m weighed down by nasty expectations, profound depression, inconsolable grief, rancid resentment? What if lifting my hand takes every effort of heart and soul. There’s no shame in defeat. It’s the fallow ground of rebirth. The place I lie in wait for the soil within me to turn. And it does. It’s where the seeds of willingness…so tiny and fragile…begin to sow. And there is an ever so slight shift in the light and in my perception. I am able to ask for help. And the next step of the staircase become illuminated in time for me to step down.

I don’t know why or how. I only know that for me, it does. I’m on a need to know basis.

Small Things

On the way to have coffee with a friend this morning, I was driving on a pretty busy street.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a doe walk quickly up the embankment, and stand at the edge of the road.  This is not unusual in Colorado. Sometimes an entire herd of deer will come to a street and do one of three things: leap into the road, scaring the crap out of everyone, turn tail,and run in the other direction, or stand there and wait, as this lovely girl did.

I slowed to a stop with my hazards on, and the drivers around me did the same.  Just as we all were beginning to feel a little impatient with our beautiful nuisance, four tiny, smooth fawns stepped out of the tall grass to stand nervously behind her, ears twitching and wet noses raised. They were the most perfect brown with white snow drops on their backs. They were so perfect that they looked almost unreal… like the way you remember a picture long after it’s taken.

In the far lane, someone came too fast, and we all, animals included, held our breath, for fear that one would spook in the wrong direction. Instead, mother’s unspoken decision was made. That was plenty for one day. They turned as one, to trot and stumble back down the embankment into the cool green neighborhood where cars are not so fast.

Soon enough engines began whirring, blinkers came on, and the world began moving again.  For a moment, I almost slipped back into the mundane. But I too was shaken and thrilled by our small excursion together…trembling newness, unbroken innocence, mother’s love sense…all enough to make magic the whole day.

Those Damn Lights

This Christmas, my most stressful situation was by far the lights on my Christmas tree. High class problem. I know. Starving children in Africa and all that. But those lights were but a symptom of my dis-ease. See, I’d been saving these 2 boxes of lights to put on my tree this year because the box said that they “twinkle”. I imagined soft, occasional dots of light that would enhance the bulkier glow of the C7 lights I’ve loved since childhood. But they didn’t “twinkle”. They flashed…like tiny strobes…like the tree was beckoning from a stranded beach in the middle of the Pacific ocean. And there were 500 of them! The problem was that I didn’t really notice how strong it was until I had 250 ornaments crowded onto it. Well, probably not 250, but you get the idea.

So I mentally fussed over it for the next 2 days. At one point I sat in front of the tree at 3 AM weighing the options of living in peace or taking all of the ornaments off and removing the lights.  There was some meek semblance of sanity that suggested I might want to wait until the next day.  I did, and thankfully I was able to talk it through with some friends the next day.  I endeavored to get through the holidays by focusing on the beauty of the tree instead of what I considered to be its defects.  Therapists have said this very same thing about my focus on myself, but I digress.

It’s not unusual for me to have these bouts of true insanity during the holidays.  In the quiet, hibernating days between Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve thought a lot about this.  I struggle with perfection in my everyday life.  It immobilizes me.  If I can’t do it well, I won’t do it at all.  But Christmas seems to bring out the worst perfectionism in me.  I know from many Christmases past that this has more to do with drawing my attention away from feelings that the holidays bring up.  There’s a fine balance between happiness and melancholy.  Indulging in perfectionist behavior helps me to avoid those feelings.  It’s less painful to sit in the middle of the night contemplating a Christmas tree overhaul, than to admit that I miss my father and my brother…a lot.  Putting 600 lights on a 5 foot tree (another Christmas past) strives to create the illusion that all is well.  It’s a by-product of my childhood, really.  Appearances are everything.

It’s only when I stop and get still, or sit in front of the mirrors that are my trusted friends, that I feel the pull of sadness or grief…that I allow the tears to come.  The trees, the lights, the perfect present for my daughter, are all desperate escapes from the one thing that will truly bring me relief…feeling my feelings, regardless of how much I think they will hurt. The truth is, and truth that I always tend to forget, is that feeling the hurt, and moving past it, is less uncomfortable than trying to pretend it isn’t there, wrapped in the wires of dysfunctional lights.

I’m not going to say that the lights didn’t bother me after that.  They did.  But if I blurred my eyes (something I’ve done since I was a kid) I could see the colors run together and the twinkle that had once IMG_20131225_011549-TWINKLEeluded me.

Junco

In the past month or so we’ve had a new visitor to the bird feeder outside my window: black-eyed juncos by the dozens. I’m in love with them. I could watch them all day. I haven’t been able to find a picture that perfectly captures the steel-blue-gray feathers about the head and neck…how it flows softly into the fluffy chest that has two strokes of chestnut brown painted under the wings. Many of the women in my family love birds…they have always been a part of me. It reminds me of Emily Dickinson…”Hope is the thing with feathers – / That perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words – / And never stops – at all.” I always imagined that if I were a bird, I’d be a scrub jay with its roughness and gorgeous, resilient blue. These days I feel a little bit fragile – a lot like that steel-blue-gray tucked squarely around my shoulders. Lately I like the junco.Image