Advent is here, the liturgical season of waiting for rebirth. When I was growing up our family always had an Advent wreath. I remember the green boughs encircling a stainless steel holder for three purple candles, and one pink one, lit the third week, that meant we were “getting close.” I also remember my Dad would read a prayer when we lit these candles at night that began, “Oh Lord, stir up our hearts, and come.” As a child, I would wonder at the literal image of stirring evoked by my Dad’s voice as he read this prayer with its momentous request. I would feel the strange anticipatory quiet of waiting for the arrival of a promise fulfilled, and dream about what kind of spoon might actually stir my heart. Whether you happen to observe Advent or not, it’s still the time of year when the days get darker, we hold our breath a little, and wait for the sun to appear to stand still in the sky (which is what Solstice means). After three days, it begins its slow climb toward Spring, bringing more light by a few precious minutes each day. Even Catholic sources tell us the Advent Wreath is a Christian symbol of eternity most likely derived from the ancient pagan fire wheel. In all traditions, in all times, we burn lights that wait with us, help us keep vigil in the darkness.
This time of year reminds me I’ve done a lot of waiting in my life. And learned to get pretty good at it. I’ve had a lot of things on my plate lately, and have taken a little dip in energy and stamina. Nothing major, but important to attend to. Coming across this entry from last year lifted my spirits. I’ve added an epilogue from this year with a couple of poems connected to the original entry. I hope it helps you when you have to wait.
October 8, 2011
So much of anything that heals requires waiting. And waiting is not something we value at all. In fact, our culture runs from it, decries it, considers it pointless. Except in these cracks between where that life is rushing by. This is where healing is.
This morning I was struggling with feeling a failure, unable to respond to things on the spot, and knowing how profoundly misunderstood that is, and how painful it can be when it is. And how I can feel so discouraged about it, and wondering if I really can even write any more. . .and then thinking about a time I was really down before eating this way, feeling so poorly physically, missing a good friend, and the image came back to me of “me” at the end of my poem “Before the Stars” sitting at the end of the road, waiting, “at the mouth of a green open world.” With this came the truth that I had indeed written it, and that now it could carry me through this waiting to feel better. And how much I have waited through. Lots and lots of undescribable pain, usually alone with it, as most people with chronic pain are, so much so that in those moments it becomes who I am. And yet it doesn’t. Which is why I wait. Wait it out. Wait for more of it, enough of it, to subside. Get better. Wait to get my second wind. Or wait until the desperate thoughts calm down. Wait until the ice melts. Wait until the sun comes back out, or sets, or goes behind a cloud so it won’t be so hot. Until the berries are just a tad more ripe. Until the stem of the pear clicks like a lock opening and comes into my hand and away from the tree’s grasp.
Actually, a lot of the time I don’t mind waiting for things, for a process to unfold. There is a strange power hidden within the waiting. I do get very tired waiting for people, but that’s mostly because I try to keep myself “ready” for them, and I can’t sustain that very long. I can either be ready, or wait, but not both.
I sometimes secretly feel like an idiot because I wait, or even like to wait, so patiently or hopefully, or, at the very least, in willing resignation. It’s almost as if being able to wait cheerfully is viewed as a sign of lower intelligence, since every one else “out there” seems to value striving toward a goal unceasingly, without pause, the highest virtue. I doubt that’s true, but it’s lonely to be able to wait nonetheless. And sometimes it feels like it is true. But then I remember all the times I’ve gotten into trouble doubting my own sense of things, and trying to go along with what others are insisting on. Or just going with the energy they are pressing into my space, even if it doesn’t feel quite right to me. Always a mistake. Yet hard to avoid a lot of the time. Or to discern. It takes time. I have to wait for clarity. So if I’m being pressured, or feel pressured not to wait, that disrupts a valuable process.
Waiting has been key to recognizing milestones that have come, and continue to come, with this way of eating. Often, in the midst of the presentation of some symptom, always less or softer or of shorter duration than it once was, as I begin to despair or react in knee-jerk dismay over it, there is another energy coming from my body that always says, “just wait, we are working on it,” and I know that a bounce-back is incipient, on its way. Or has already arrived because that feeling or signal that I am, or will soon, turn a corner, is there, has been delivered, if I listen. And wait.
Like listening for the cricket the other day in the co-op with Clark. He said, “Do you hear a cricket?” I didn’t, but knew I had to step out of my shopping list agenda, and then actually take two physical steps closer to where he was, stop, listen, and wait. And I would hear the cricket. Or I was hopeful I would. And I did. Above the din of the store, it’s muzak, cases opening and shutting, hums, boxes dropping, etc. It all fell away and beneath it was the cricket. We smiled. A treat, below the horizon of the norm. I liked that very much. It doesn’t happen, though, without being willing to stop, listen, or look, and wait.
Sometimes I have to wait just a few seconds. Sometimes years. So long I forget anymore that I am waiting. I guess I mean waiting in the sense of standing by where you recognize cues maybe?
I think of a waiter. Attendance. But that often means total attention riveted on one situation, person, or object. So maybe that’s not it. Because I don’t fill my consciousness with the readiness, the anticipation. That’s too exhausting. For the long haul, it’s more a forgetting on that surface, yet a recognition that will arise from somewhere deep within, in the meantime residing, peacefully waiting, for when it’s somehow “time.”
. . . .
September 14, 2012
Clark, the noticer of the cricket, is also my garden and landscape helper and friend. He is an artist with stones and brick. He is also a poet. A yogi. And a fly fisherman. Father of two great kids. And he works at our co-op. A Renaissance kind of guy. It’s good to know someone like him. For a brief fun time, he published a literary journal here in town called Gumption. “Before the Stars” appeared in the second issue, and won me the prize of an extra copy and a blaze of glory in an extremely tiny circle. It was a poem I had written many years before, after not having been able to write anything years before that:
Before the Stars
I have come to the end of the road.
Those long shadows cut the soft dust
with their sharp, dark arms, and the light falls.
The blinding layers of brilliant day
have fallen away, one by one. Only the deep
gold lingers, which, soon, will also be gone,
turned away from night’s blue home
raising itself slowly, in silence,
to draw each shadow in and close
the indigo doors. Then just stars.
But now, at this moment, the door
is still open, and the end of the road
reaches out across the dark arms
cutting, inviting me to its tangle
of wild grasses back lit in the reflection,
the gold air. The land drops down
beyond. Yet I could sit there,
no more traveling, in stillness,
at the open, green mouth of a new world.
No road. Just the murmurs of water
far below. The breeze that blows out
the last threads of sun would tangle my hair,
the tall grasses. I could sit there. I could wait,
breathing in and out before the stars.
. . . .
This year, as part of the miraculous snowmelt where writing poetry is concerned, I was able to write a blank verse sonnet about the experience of listening to the cricket. It’s one of about 30 sonnets I was able to write over the last year, and part of a chapbook called If a Sparrow I hope will be picked up by some small press some day.
Listening to the Cricket
Clark asked me Do you hear a cricket?
I stepped closer across the red and cream
squares of the grocery floor, and I did.
In the old bones of the Co-op building,
above the warble of the freezer case
and humming full of conversations,
we heard it as if all other noises
stepped aside, seasons switched. Within brick wall
lived a warm summer night smelling sprinklers
and grass, the steeped blue-black sky, stars out,
cricket song in fruiting squash and corn, hiss
of soaker hose. We smiled at each other,
and at the cricket, each tucking our
own private stash in a pocket for keeps.
So, if I’m going through something difficult, painful, or I feel like the changes I’d like to see are coming too slowly, temporarily have slipped away, seem elusive even, I do my best to wait. And stay the course. Have faith. As Galway Kinnell writes in the last stanza of his wonderful poem, “Wait”:
Only wait a little, and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
It’s always worth it to keep eating this way while I wait. And to remind myself of the feeling and accomplishment in “Before the Stars.” These are the things I tell myself anyway. And then I put a pot of soup on the stove. The kind that gets better and richer in flavor the longer it sits. All I have to do is wait.