Archive for the 'Encounter' Category

Forty Days

amywink April 2nd, 2018

I wrote every day of Lent except two– Palm Sunday, and Holy Saturday, two days I was simply being. I do not think that is a failure of my devotion and discipline since I was not really trying to achieve a “perfect” record, but more of a mature understanding of my faith and creative practice–which did take some effort, especially at the beginning.

We think of discipline as punishment, but in this instance (and others), it’s simply the ability to keep to a task, to improve a skill or practice. I posted 37 entries here under the “Lent” category. Some days, I wrote more than a single poem, some days I wrote privately. As much as I tried to make my practice a regular timed habit, I was not able to restrict myself to a rigorous schedule because my practice actually expanded, growing into the rest of the day, beyond what I usually think of as my best writing time.

Mostly, I did write in the very early hours, in the quiet before the dawn, because that is the time I have to think without interruptions, the time to carry on this daily conversation with God. But some days, our conversation was long and it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that I found the idea I’d kneaded throughout the day, or sometimes, a lightening bolt would strike later in the day, after I’d written already in the morning.

Of course, I never ignore the lightening bolt. One doesn’t.

Kristi asked yesterday if I planned to keep doing this, writing every day, and I said yes. My forty days were about learning something new, changing the way I understood my relationship this specific creative gift, developing my relationship with the Divine, and learning how to answer what I have been asked to do. This gift is, of course, far greater than each individual poem or paragraph. It’s a gift of vision as well, a way of seeing the world and then, turning that insight into a living practice and then sharing the vision with others. I tell my students that poets are trying to communicate with their readers, trying to get them to see common things in an extraordinary way, or extraordinary things in a common way so that we may be changed in our vision through theirs. We may not always catch sight of what a poet is trying to divine for us at once, but we need to keep looking. Poets keep looking too.

Kathleen Norris wrote that a friend recommended she give up “anxiety” for Lent one year. I recognized the virtue in that and I believe I ended up doing a little bit of that as well–though it does linger, it’s significantly less– but I have come to understand that the thing I gave up was actually distance. I moved closer to God, moved closer to people, moved closer to understanding, and moved closer to being who I am supposed to be, so that I may do what I am for.

Lent: Witness

amywink February 23rd, 2018

I am standing
to witness his will,
this man I do not know,
simply because
I was asked
and he is clearly leaving
very soon, though he
looks into my eyes and
I into his so I see him
before he goes.

Between turning the pages
of his will, he rests, worn
from the effort of signing,
turning each page,
and answering the questions
his attorney poses
while I witness.
Then, I ask
about his name,
a long beautiful sound
I do not recognize
so I ask its origin
and he beams briefly,
breathing deep to
say proudly
“Armenian”
and we smile,
together.

Months later, when I am
called as witness
to explain what I saw,
for the legal appeal
of his will, the lawyers
ask, what I heard,
what I understood
about the scene.
Did you speak with him?
What did he say?
And I reply,
Yes, I spoke with him.

I asked him about
his beautiful name,
and he said “Armenian.”
and we were then
no longer strangers.

Lent: Be with Us on Our Journey

amywink February 22nd, 2018

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord,
teach me your paths.”
Psalm 25

I have passed the second anniversary of my mother’s heart attack. In two weeks, I will pass the second anniversary of her death. I am in the second anniversary of the weeks between, when the body does the work of grief. I have to pay attention to the feelings rising out of memory, to shadow the present and tint my current days. I know this is here. I know this is now but I respect the work of grief, accepting these tattered remnants of that passing time, the ephemera of those days between.

Time slowed down while my mother was in the hospital, as time does in hospitals, where there is so much waiting and nothing can be pinned to a specific minute. There are no appointments, just waiting. Just waiting in the unknown, even as we tried to pin what was known, like mapping our plan for a potential destination and yet having absolutely no idea of where we might be going. And so we sat, waiting, my brother, my sister-in-law, and my dear friend Sally who came for me, without my even asking and we waited.

We were not alone in our waiting, others waited in their own transitional times. One man, looking like he was straight from the ranch, in coveralls and work-boots, arrived to see his friend who had just had open-heart surgery. His nervous chatter like sandpaper against the quiet. My thoughts were not holy. I was grateful when he left to see his friend.

When he met me in the hallway after, he was filled with advice about the horror that he had seen, as if he could help me, prepare me, for what I might encounter next, and he rambled on as I stood there before him, with Sally at my back. I felt my shoulders rising, I felt the electric tension glittering in me as he so helpfully described his terrible encounter. I shouted in my head as I breathed, slow, steady, through the rising tenor of his voice, his panic. Then I moved toward him. I reached and put my hand on his arm, caught his eye and said “I will be okay. It will be okay.” And he stopped, suddenly grounded, tethered before his terror lifted him beyond my reach.

“I do not touch strangers,” I told Sally later, and I have no idea why I reached, except I had and it seemed to help. I think of that man, that moment, whatever came over me to move me toward his fear, out of my own irritation. I think of the people who were with me, friends and strangers. I think of those memories of presence, ephemera fluttering through those slowly passing days.

Lent: Redemption

amywink February 21st, 2018

“Stories are a gift to the tribe and stories have always been the best way for us to make sense of this hard world, or try to.” Greg Garrett

Reading the 19th-century diaries of Henrietta and Tennessee Embree taught me a great deal about compassion. The moment Tennessee wrote about backhanding her two-year old daughter across the face, hitting the child hard with her ringed hand and then her own horror at doing so was a moment I had to put down her journal and think hard about how I might judge her or understand her. I had liked her, felt for her, and suddenly, she struck her daughter in an unforgivable way and I could not like her.

Her fate in my writing would depend on how I responded. I could dismiss her. I could demean her. I could forget her humanity. She was racist, wealthy, abusive. What more did I need to condemn her? We are so much more evolved now, right? What value would there be in considering her humanity? Instead, I found my compassion in understanding the life she lived with her abusive husband, the fear that pervaded her life, and what must have been overwhelming moment, one that exploded into violence. I forgave her.

It has been over twenty years since I first encountered that moment in her 1867 diary and yet that moment stays with me today because my work turned on how I responded to her. A graduate student once wrote me about Tennessee Embree, asking “If there was basically a women’s shelter in Belton, why didn’t she just go there for help?” There was judgment in the question, like there is still today, but the answer I sent was very simple, very human: “She didn’t like the woman who ran the Belton Women’s Commonwealth.” That is the thing that stopped her. I never heard back from the graduate student. I suspect my answer might not have been what she wanted to hear, but it could also have been that my answer was just not exciting enough, not deep enough, for what the student wanted to write. I don’t know. I do know that Tennessee was a human being and it is hard to be a human being.

What does it matter what way I wrote about this long-dead woman? What does it matter how I chose to respond in a critical book on women’s diaries that so few people might eventually read? My response mattered because I was telling her story, the story she kept privately, the story I was reading, the story that now became part of my story. My responsibility to her story was also a responsibility to her, my responsibility to understand her humanity. I had to reach. I had to set aside my self (my PhD-seeking, make-a-critical-impact self) and reach, instead, for her.

When I eventually met Tennessee Embree’s descendants, they asked me “What made Henrietta and Tennessee special? What made them important enough for you to write about?” I answered, “Their ordinary lives.” I explained that they lived ordinary lives, in a community of people, and experienced ordinary human things, in the same way that we experience ordinary human things. The value of their diaries is exactly that, not in being extraordinary. When we read the story of ordinary living, we can come to understand what makes us human, the things that connect us to each other. The moments of ordinary failure, or ordinary achievement, help us understand, as Richard Rohr describes, the “shattering experiences of living.” Their ordinary lives, their ordinary words, reach across time and like a revelation, illuminate the difficulty and elegance of being human.

Lent: Lament

amywink February 19th, 2018

Lent: Lament

Tell me there was some one,
at least one, who was kind.

Who could there be no one?

No one who turned?
No one who saw?
No one who reached?
No one who walked
toward your trouble,
just to be with you there,
just so you were not alone?

How was there no one?

I think of my own troubles,
and those who showed up,
just to be present,
just to be,
knowing so little
could be said,
just to be sanctuary
in the darkness,
so I could see
perhaps even
just the palest light.

I think of the times
I have turned toward
someone’s trouble.

How could there be no one?

How can there still be no one
walking toward this trouble?