With Abandon

On Tuesday morning someone pointed out a far corner of sky that wasn’t shrouded by muddy clouds. Just a small slice—delicate and brilliant. But by that afternoon the short glimpse of robin’s-egg blue had been consumed by the grayness that has managed to consume everything else.

It was raining in the mostly abandoned campus parking lot I had to cross to reach my room—solid, slow-falling raindrops smearing the lenses of my glasses, pecking their way under my sunflower umbrella, my green turned-up hood, cold and surprising on my neck. I tried to imagine myself a flower stalk, turning up my head to catch the water spilling onto my face, filling my pores, my very cells to bursting. But I only focus on the next step, shrink further into myself, block the impact.

The 6 o’ clock dusk dimming, walls of dark wooly cloud mass, the gray only becoming thicker, I couldn’t tell the depth of the water I was treading in, stepping awkwardly and lurching through on my toes, though my buckskin boots were already stained dark up to the ankles from the wet, my socks squelching under the steady and hollow rustle of water slapping blacktop. The drops hit like mini Saturns, rippling out into infinity while another instantly took its place. Street lamps ignited them like dying suns, burnt orange reflections smoldering and toppling in piercing fractures.

I walked fast and breathed shallow, the air damp and moldy like the patches of acid-yellow grass that refuses to green, the month that refuses to shed it’s winter skin, unfurl the light needed to make me open.

I wanted to force the rain into an excuse to feel alive again, wrestle it into metaphor for new beginnings. But maybe it’s just me that needs to be wrestled with.

When the girl with the pink polka-dot rain boots burrowed in her bag outside a dripping Honda civic, I thought about stealing the rubber boots off her feet so I could stomp flat-footed against the wet and watch it spray out from under me, kick the puddles into streaming arcs. Better yet, abandon shoes all together and surrender the careful confinement of it all. I should have left the umbrella in the lot, should have stood out there until the drops stopped feeling like an intrusion on my skin, shed the layers, felt my hair sting and plaster against excited cheeks, baptize myself out of submission, out of expectation.

But I didn’t.

And all week I’ve been thirsty for the child-like abandon that I lost somewhere in the seriousness of the adult world, that was smothered like a slice of blue in a season of gray. And I know that next time I’ll stare longer. I’ll get my feet wet. I’ll stand there until nothing else matters.

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Desert Floors

As we pull off a highway near Phoenix, hazy Superstition Mountains looming over us just west of the horizon, I point out the car window off the road and ask, “Grandma, what’s that tree called?” It’s waxy bark the color of pea soup, it’s trunk curves slender and smooth and graceful.

“Palo Verde,” she answers. “It’s the Arizona state tree. Green stick.”

For the few days I’m able to spend with my grandmother for the weekend, I’m still amazed that this landscape has any vegetation at all. Arizona is a desert. Underneath rough shrubs is red dust, cracked and dry. In metropolitan areas, what they haven’t paved over, they’ve covered with similar colored rocks and gravel. Yet even through that something lives.

Large-pored fruit sags from locals’ fiercely green orange trees, the star-shaped blossoms  saturating the air with their sweetness. Bright fuchsia Bougainvillea flowers grow thick in brilliant clumps, tender, but capable of recovering from both frost and drought.

Even the cacti with their crisscrossed spines awe me, towering with thick limbs lifted up into the sky. Many plants have the means to preserve water in such a climate, but the cactus knows how to be more hydrated than the soil it’s growing in. When rain comes, new roots shoot out to absorb all they can hold, but when the soil runs dry, the roots break off. It has to disconnect itself from the soil in order to not lose its nourishment to it.

There is a quiet beauty to the desert. It’s full of subtle color–warm and always changing in every light and time of day. It’s here I’ve come to get away, to spend precious time with my grandmother, but also to be alone. Maybe to recover. To understand the wilderness I’m wandering in.

I echo the cacti’s version of survival. Looking for but also fighting solitude, I’m aware of how I’ve closed myself off. I struggle with the guilt of the relationships I’ve distanced myself from, mostly due to my own thirst, everything I can’t presently afford to give. I’ve broken myself off from the soil I’ve known because it’s proved too costly. And I’m bleeding myself dry.

But there is rainfall even in the desert. There is cleansing that is so much more treasured when I’m in the drought. For the people, the words, the blessings, the God that pours into me, I stretch out every palm and reach for every drop. My desert floor is cracked from cancer and death and failed friendships and suicide and broken families and too little time. But even on that barren dirt, the rain still comes. Through the cracks, plants grow, flowers bloom, and they suck in every ounce of life. I’m stretching along with them.

And I am alive.

 

Sitting in It

Darkness itself isn’t daunting. Rather, people fear what they don’t know, what they can’t see. We’re afraid of what lies outside of our control. We’re afraid of how the darkness disarms us.

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Twin Cities author, Addie Zierman speak a bit about her new memoir Night Driving: A Story of Faith in Darkness, and I left truly thinking about darkness in ways I’ve never had before. The way Addie puts it, we are so afraid of being apart from light, apart from sight and goodness and everything else light typically stands for, that we too often create our own artificial ways to eliminate the darkness around and in us. And at the end of it all, our artificial light is just distraction from what we don’t want to face.

If you look at the physical make-up of the world for five minutes you realize that darkness is a crucial element. It passes but it never really ends. The night gives way to daylight and the winter will eventually melt into summer, and though there is a season for everything, nobody claims that seasons are a one-time thing. They always cycle back. And just as cities full of blinding artificial light pollute the air, so do our attempts to block out the night pollute our ability to truly see and understand.

In the months after my cousin’s suicide, part of me is tempted to ignore, well, everything. It’s easier to ignore the poetry on my shelf and watch Netflix, it’s easier to avoid friends and people and bury myself in school work, it’s easier to surround yourself with whatever dulls the feeling, distracts, keeps your thoughts from where you don’t want them to go.

But even though it can feel easier, it’s the last thing we really want. Though paradoxical, I think we ache for the reality of what makes us ache. We crave vulnerability and authenticity and lives capable of genuine thought and feeling. We want stories of depth–even if the depths are the deepest and darkest places we can go.

Last week in my poetry class, the professor assigned each of us terms that we were to define and present on in front of the class. Now, I’ve had two years worth of poetry classes and feel fairly knowledgeable in that kind of thing. But while everyone else gets terms like metaphor and personification, I get a John Keats concept I’ve hardly ever heard of before. Great.

And when I come to the professor’s office for help, she looks at me and says that’s right, I gave you a hard one because I thought you’d be able to handle it. 

The term Negative Capability in poetry is described as the ability to stay in a point of suspension without reaching after logic or reason. It’s being in a place of discomfort or confusion or even a place that makes no rational sense, but not avoiding or fleeing that state.

And now that I’ve looked into the concept, I can’t stop thinking about it in my writing or in my life. Where I am in my life is a place that I don’t necessarily have answers or explanation for. I’m in an extended place of doubt and difficulty. I’m in a place that not many can reach me in. But I know that the best thing I can do for myself is to just sit in it.

I will stay in the darkness because I am called to be in the depths. I can be suspended in darkness because it is shaping me to not rely on the perception of control that fails me. I’m staying in with the grief and the tears and the counseling and the poetry because I don’t want want to fear feeling–whether it be joy or pain.

I’m sitting in it because it’s the only way to fully experience the light.