Thursday, October 11, 2012

Move like smoke in my eyes

"We are utterly open with no one in the end — not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each other but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must." — Brian Doyle

A few summers ago I planted two types of lavender in the front yard. I did not know they were two different varieties but they have some definite differences. One is hardy, with a wood-like stem, gray-green leaves and indigo flowers. The other is more delicate, the flowers are light blue with a trace of mauve and the branches are a light blue-green. This summer we packed the front porch bench up for Habitat and replaced it with adirondack chairs and a small table where we could have the occasional meal and escape from the heat of the house. Despite the harassment of our city blue bottle flies, we enjoyed some lovely, quiet evening suppers by sunset out on the porch. We tasted the honey-licorice, dewdrop-sized flavor of basil blossoms. The sage's downey leaves grew longer than our hands. We let the overgrown lemongrass tickle our arms and legs and watched our newly-planted Cary Grant rosebush blossom into handfuls of flame. We became transfixed by the obsession of the bees with the fragrant lavender. 
© Michael Christy

The bees were meticulous with their attention to every tiny bloom, going over each two or three times, possibly more. It was not just a preoccupation with not just fragrance but an affection for the color purple. We found them doting over the irises we inherited from a couple at church and navigating the piney centers of our purple cone flowers. My husband tried to capture this, yet all lens speed was lost to the brisk movement of their wings.

I was also captivated by the source of the bees as this is a damaged city encased in secrets bigger than bees. I imagined clandestine bee-keepers with make-shift netted hats and smokers made from oil cans embedded with incense embers harvesting cloudy, evening sun-colored jars of liquid gold. And yet my mind new that it was more likely these bees had found the slats behind crumbling plaster in a wall of a decomposing domicile in which to dwell and do their business. Nevertheless, each bee was engaging in a solitary life and journey, no matter how humble from flower to hive in this broken-hearted city that would be.

I have been attempting to live a better story lately. I feel as if I have been misplacing this story all year along the way like the laying down of keys or a wallet or the most recent issue of The Newyorker that appears like a miracle in our mailbox. I let my story become obscured in the home to flower goings-on of my life. 

Callin' it quits
You think this is easy
I swear I heard you callin' the jury
Call it a catch
Without any strings attached…*

I've done it to myself, I know it is true. The capacity to self destruct is within us all. I marked the days with have-to-do's and television numbing. I awoke for several weeks in a row making myself go through the motions while still attempting to eek out the meaning of it all. Perhaps I was waiting on a sign that things were changing. I didn't see the way out of work situations, friendships gone stale or sour, a new shyness in social interactions nor the introspection of inexpressible grief and felt terribly alone. 

I call it an ace
You've gotta believe me
But you're callin' me names not to my face
But you're calling my spade a bluff
Callin' it love

Someone once said that we do not create change, true change, in our lives until we are scared enough to do it. What convinces us we can handle so much fear and call it by another name? Why does memory wound us when we let it? What does the re-mechanization of interal forces require? How do humanize the most broken bits of ourselves?

Well I'm lookin' for a soft place to land
The forest floor
The palms of your hands
I'm lookin' for a soft place to land

I had a driveway moment this summer during a story about an old Italian man, hallowed rosemary bushes, two young boys and a hive of bees. The old man, enchanted by the rich, clean taste of rosemary honey that brought him back to his dusty hometown an ocean away, charged the two boys with tracking the bees in his rosemary back to their hive so they could share the bounty of honey. He instructed the boys in their investigation and taught them how to use his great-grandfather's smoker to quell the bees. "Back and forth, back and forth," he said as they snuck up on the shed.... "Slowly... slower... move like the priest with the thurible... let the smoke do the work."

If you have ever been in a church where incense is used, you have felt as if something profoundly ancient is settling over you. There is also a sense of danger as the censer is swung, the possibility of hot ash and ember spilling from the end of a chain. Yet you settle in, let smoke fill your eyes and the spaces between your clothes and hair, feeling overtaken by this expression of the Holy Spirit, breathing it in. I vaguely remember the last time this happened to me, yet last autumn I let the sage and sweetgrass smolder of a smudge pass over me at a family member's funeral and felt the Spirit soothe me.

I have so many questions for which I need the Spirit's soothing. This summer I spent a great deal of time at my make-shift church on Lake Michigan wandering along tide and Petoskey stones, seeking the rebirth of an inner life. Within I am like the bee, following the scented wind from hive to flower, yet feeling vulnerable to myself in this solitude. I long to please the calling wind and am eased by the smoke that overtakes me.

Call me in the night
I don't mind, I don't care, I can't sleep,
Call me in the day, in my car, on my way
Call me by name, all I want is to hear you say

A teacher of mine once told me that my vulnerability is my strength. I am learning how my story is a story of vulnerability. I am looking for a soft place to land. I believe the Spirit is too.

Well I'm lookin' for a soft place to land
The forest floor
The palms of your hands

I'm lookin' for a soft place to land
The forest floor
The palms of your hands, palms of your hands 

A Soft Place To Land by Kathleen Edwards