All winter you went to bed early, drugging yourself on War and Peace
Prince Andrei’s cold eyes taking in the sky from the battlefield
were your eyes, you went walking wrapped in his wound
like a padded coat against the winds from the two rivers
You went walking in the streets as if you were ordinary
as if you hadn’t been pulling with your raw mittened hand
on the slight strand that held your tattered mind
blown like an old stocking from a wire
on the wind between two rivers.
All winter you asked nothing
of that book though it lay heavy on your knees
you asked only for a shed skin, many skins in which to walk
you were old woman, child, commander
you watched Natasha grow into a neutered thing
you felt your heart go still while your eyes swept the pages
you felt the pages thickening to the left and the right
- hand grow few, you knew the end was coming
you knew beyond the ending lay
our own, unwritten life.
~ Adrienne Rich (The Novel)
When I get a friend request on Facebook, I look for how we intersect. I heard from a gal in Phoenix, thought of a friend with Phoenix connections. On her wall I saw protestors at Oak Creek, thought like-minded. I accepted. Then learned she’s someone I knew in another lifetime when she was married to a best friend who drifted away, who I still periodically look for. She shared he died in 2007, but nothing more though I gave her my email address, asked her to write. A sadness settled with that door closing.
I remembered the last time my long-ago best friend and I spoke. After so many years. He said I sounded the same. I remember wondering if he’d become more of his darker self, or if his tone was simply the moment. I hoped the latter. When I shared the news of his passing with my husband, he commented I’ve lived seven lifetimes, moved through three since I’d seen my friend. Lifetimes, as in phases in this body with a whole structure of doings and being. Patterns of thoughts, beliefs, interests, pursuits. Environments of home, city, work. Each unwritten in the beginning, forever ended at the close. Oh, way more, I said.
I’m in the midst of another unwritten life forming. This one with more acceptance, and more valuing of myself. I want it to be marked by giving with a fearless heart. Want to be like Annie Dillard when she wrote ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,’ a book Geoff Dyer describes as a series of ecstatic wonderings, united by a tone and a mind capable of extraordinary attentiveness. A brilliant chemist friend told me once some of us are passive wonderers and some of us are active wonderers. Investigating what you wonder is what lets you feel like you have an oar to guide your canoe.
With his words I immediately saw a grand confluence of active wondering in myself – art, creating, psychology, sociology, patterns, cultures, spirituality the unseen, nature and beauty. Oars guiding my canoe through lifetime after lifetime. The ground for the novels and essays I write. For all I consider real. Are we born with it? Reminded and sparked along the way? Mine certainly showed up early. Last time I saw my mother, asked her what I loved doing most as a small child, she replied without a breath of thought ‘draw, from the time you could hold a pencil.’ And they’d always boast I had cat eyes, could see in the dark as a toddler. Because I roamed the house at night in a place where no streetlights shown through windows. I don’t know.
What I know is I didn’t understand what wonder meant until now. That I held a recognition for twenty-two years, given me in a moment I’ve mentioned before, without knowing it. A day with my father on a screened porch, readying to cut his hair. Months before he died. He watched a bird, said “I wonder. . .” Gobsmacked, I noticed the air slowed, paused. Noticed the light on the porch, on him. I can still see it. And hear my thought ‘he wonders.’ Feel how something clicked inside me I couldn’t entirely grasp. It was about him, seeing him differently, as if something all made sense. But sitting here, I understand the true gift for me. A word for my being-ness that I would come to know as, well, wondering. Because curiosity, the word I used, was incorrect. And my words ‘I ask why’ don’t convey the right spirit. Because for me, wonder is an open vessel, an entry to awe. To understanding, the beautiful and the not so beautiful.
I eventually heard back from the gal in Phoenix. My lost best friend had indeed softened. And I could see in how he made his last passage he was the same, too. Doing it the way I know he wondered, the same as when he doctored and played tennis, finding the sweet spot of perfect maneuver, meeting the ball lobbed at him, alone. I’m ready to write my next lifetime like poetry for the world. But not alone. I want company.
Tell me, what roads has wonder led you down?
Another small journey to mindfulness. Getting to Wise.
A Writer’s Life.
A secret: I have boxes of rocks, and shells, and bird feathers. Boxes of awe.
A favorite: Bird feathers, on birds. Unless they leave one behind for me.
Photo: Nikolay Staykov