I woke up this morning in a farmhouse in upstate New York, rising from disturbing dreams and a much needed and long winter’s nap. I am sitting in a garage turned studio with my back to a wood stove and facing the lake I used to live by forty miles south of here. There’s a Christmas tree in the next room, and across from the kitchen, sitting on an antique shoeshine stand, the travel-sized menorah I brought from home so that I could light candles at dusk each evening during my stay.
My hosts have been kind enough to not only oblige my new tradition, but also embrace it each time I close my eyes and sing the blessing before kindling the lights that have kept me going throughout one of the most challenging weeks of my life. Although I love my new job, it is a lot of work, much of which I’ve been taking home with me, even over the weekends and, now, on holidays. At the same time, I appreciate having something to throw myself into, headlong and completely, so that I can focus on anything other than the existential questions that would take my mind and heart hostage if I let them.
Recently, I’ve been writing about home plumbing systems, educating myself about boilers and water heaters, as I learn how to better prioritize my work to meet various deadlines. What I’ve ultimately learned is that the safe operation for much of the equipment I write about is similar to maintaining my humanity, and to some extent, my humility. Just as sediment buildup causes corrosion, clogged drains and valves, and decreased efficiency in a water heater, so does the sediment of loss affect the human heart and brain. I am not as efficient if I don’t occasionally bleed the lines and drain all that has settled at the bottom of my soul, weighing down my capacity to love unconditionally.
I know that I am sluggish and unfocused, unless I flush out the sediment through writing here, where I’ve learned to practice patience, more or less. It has not been easy searching for a gentle landing place for acceptance, for letting go, for closing my eyes and seeing something other than a lonely body of water glowing in the final minutes of the day. So I continue to write my way out of a heaviness I can no longer carry like the disease I harbored for so many years, as I blamed it all on external factors and stayed under the covers of a life of quiet desperation.
It has been two years since I first began “living deep and sucking out all the marrow of life.” It’s been a process of trial and error, deep sadness, surprise, natural highs, and everything I’ve never experienced. I have loved and lost; listened to others tell their stories of love and loss; listened to myself as I stumble around in the dark to become more of who I am; and I’m all the wiser for it.
The process of growing in wisdom, of becoming more transparent to the soul is going on within us and all around us. This is usually not a graceful or a deliberate process. We stumble forward, often in the dark, using everything to become more of who we are. It is an effort worthy of our patience, our support, our compassion, and our attention. –Rachel Naomi Remen
A few weeks ago, I picked up Rachel Remen’s book, My Grandfather’s Blessings, after putting it down several months before when I was having a hard time focusing on anything but my own story. Like most things I abandon and return to when the time is right, it’s helping me break a self-imposed silence that I no longer need.
All day, I’ve been trying to get some work done. I finally had to admit that the sediment of this feeling I cannot name has clogged all my lines when I got online to write about commercial booster pump repair and saw that one of my co-workers was online. I had just discovered a bon iver song that I’d never heard, so like any other work day, I decided to distract myself from the task at hand by connecting with a kindred spirit over the Internet and sharing music with him. It makes little sense, this life I now lead, but it is what it is.
Over the course of a month of “chatting” from across the room, Ben and I have discovered that we have a lot in common, including but not limited to: a penchant for film, an adoration for the Arcade Fire and Wilco, a slight crush on cloves, that we are both half-Jewish (in our own way), and that we both use the word “complicated” to best describe our most recent relationships.
One day last week, I worked from home because of a sore throat and a deadline that I wouldn’t meet if I had to ride the hour it takes on the bus to get to and from work. At the end of the day, I was toast. I sent Ben a message to check in before signing off; this led to an hour-long conversation and a slow conversion from recognizing patterns to just giving in, and talking to another human being. I finally understood what it meant to “unlock the misery” of the stories behind who we are, and learned to recognize the power of becoming who we’ll be.
Before we signed off that day, Ben aksed, “are you really converting to Judaism?” Several lines later, I told him that I’d have to tell him my story one day.
“I’d love to hear it…stories are the best.”
“Indeed they are.”