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Here for Awhile, Not Very Long

Thinking about how to begin a blog the very existence of which surprises me, I remembered a poem I wrote some years ago, when my ten-year-old daughter was a toddler. It seemed to me then that one of the most wonderful things about being with her, besides the sheer thrill of loving someone so much, was being in the presence of her absolute belief in her own inviolate self.

Immersed as I was—as I am—in the complexities of the adult life and the abstract yet specific life of the adult mind, it was pure refreshment to be around someone so egocentric.

All children of course are egocentric, my daughter no more so, and in some ways less so (she is a deeply compassionate person) than many of her peers. Today, as a pre-teen, she is still possessed of an innocent, reflexive self-assumption, tempered only somewhat by a growing self- and world-awareness.

I still find this delightful, somehow very relaxing, and only very occasionally (when I'm particularly tired or stressed) irritating.

(Now, if she were an adult who behaved like this—and I know adults like this, don't we all?—she'd drive me bat crazy.)

Someday, and god knows it won't be be long from now, she'll leave behind this unmitigated selfhood for the more complicated person she's on her way to becoming; someone aware of herself from the ouside in, possessed of the ability to think in abstract, hypothetical terms. She'll be far more than she yet is, but inevitably the purity of who she is now will be diluted. She won't really recall this missing person; only I (and perhaps her father and much older brother) will remember what she was like as a child, this child.

No doubt, she won't miss this shining, self-oriented being. But I will.

I'll miss her not most, but not least, because daily attunement to the absoluteness of this other Self has (recently) had the effect of reminding me—someone who has been prone to public reticence, and a constant questioning of the value of "putting the self forward", so at odds with the mores of the current culture—that maybe my own Self is worth exploring, even (gulp) sharing on a stage larger than the one I've allowed myself to tread on up until now.

After all: why not? We're each here for awhile, not very long. Hence, this blog.

Ant Hill

Her face a looming moon, the young girl
leans over a dry small dust hill. Thoughtful,

somewhat annoyed: if I shout at them,
then will they notice me? We watch

the black ants curve, scurry, bustle – oh impervious
warriors! – in a welter of planned madness.

The child is nonplussed, she is used to being noticed. But in her
immense thusness, to the insects she is not even a shadow.

This may be her first conscious intimation of God’s lot,
that state of absence dwelt in by what is unknowable, 

unseen. She does not, particularly, like it.
Mortal life is her provenance, replete and replete again

with I. I am. I see. I am talking to you, ant.
She takes a big stick and pokes. This way.

Go that way. The seething stream parts briefly,
continues unimpeded on the distaff side.

Oh frustration! Here is me! Newly embodied,
she does not care to be reminded of what, I suspect,

she has not quite forgotten. Why remember
emptiness when the task is to live as if forever

in her fragile cage of bones? But for me,
who understands too well what the child

no longer cares to know, whose large shadow
is less definite, outline unfurling at the edges

the task is otherwise: to see 
past the self in all its complicated mortality

to that joyous gasp of nothing. It is, one hopes,
what God won’t show us from the body’s

vantage that tells us what we are. And so I watch,
I listen: are you talking to me, ant?



Specific Pilgrimages, or Why I Write

There are several definitions to be found in the common dictionary for the word “pilgrimage.” The better known meaning refers to the journey of a pilgrim, made to a sacred place as an act of devotion. Another, somewhat looser meaning indicates any long journey, especially one undertaken for a particular purpose, such as to pay homage.

But there's a third and more open-ended definition yet which states simply: the course of life on earth. This definition encompasses something I've come to believe—that the multiple, smaller journeys of our lives, our experiences both sacred and secular, make up in sum a kind of pilgrimage through pleasures and perils towards the moment when we will pay our final—perhaps defining—act of devotion.

I believe as well that this pilgrimage, for each of us, is undertaken for a particular, a specific, reason. I couldn't proceed with the myriad, mundane steps of my own journey without believing this. That the meaning may often be opaque to us, that it may always remain so, is less important than the belief that we are tracing an inscribed rather than a random path. Even if this belief is only a placebo, for most of us, it represents a kind of salvation.

And while we are tracing this path, we like nothing better than to spin stories to pass the time. Like the travelers in The Canterbury Tales, we goad, entertain, and comfort one other with tales from our lives as we proceed down the long road. In this sharing we become more fully human, to ourselves and to each other; more forgivable: more divine.



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