It is hard for me to name fresh, new times when I felt like I belonged because I have written about most of them already, the ones that stand out. That pile of young women on Vicki’s living room floor, laughing. Girl Scout camp, Camp River Glen, singing in the dining hall or beside the fire at night—all of me engaged, connected, joyous. For me more often is the sense of being in a group but not of it, a rigidity in my body, an inability to rest with these people who seem so at ease together. I don’t know what the common thread is, aside from myself, me as the thread. Often I just haven’t experienced what they describe—I feel different, set apart, as if they all truly come from common roots, and I am the strange flower carried far from the others, flown here by birds.
I seem to always be becoming someone new. For decades now my life has turned toward becoming whole, becoming more and more of who I want to be, becoming well, becoming comfortable in my skin. I have small rushes of time when I can feel it burgeoning in me, swept up in some big gateway. Sometimes I feel aware of being in the heart of one big transition. Other times I can sense a series of transitions, moving toward the me I want, the life I long for. Stepping in more fully, feet planted in the earth, joy flying, humble and grateful. Not arriving, or only for a moment, but always becoming.
[Editor’s note: This was a short, timed writing from our daylong Zoom retreat on June 22nd. It is lightly edited here.]
I wake to a feeling in the air, an almost smell, a difference. Then I hear it through the open windows, quiet patters on my neighbor’s awning, soft rain falling. I lie on my back, early morning light, cloud light, tasting the rain, savoring, thanking. Then comes the voice in me who always wants more, who wants to hold things longer than their time. “If only it could rain all day,” it says, sotto voce. “If only I could stay home and enjoy it instead of being stuck inside the library all day, missing it.” But today I have more sense. “Shush,” I whisper back. “Hush, now,” I say. And I return to savoring, to thanking, to dancing inside to the song of this morning rain, this unlooked for gift, this happy surprise.
I cry brief tears in bed this morning, grateful for our home, the people who love me, my birds, trees, crickets, daddy long legs, squirrels, yard, the exquisite beauty and safe haven here. And I cry because I have lost touch with this, my deep gratitude, since I’ve been sick. It seems sometimes as though I am always recovering, or trying to, from grief or trauma, from illness or too much work. As though I am always trying to come back to myself in some way, to my life, to my dreams of writing and thriving. Being sick seems a little different, but in truth each kind of becoming well, or returning, comes in its own time. We can try to help the process, but we can’t orchestrate an end date. Still, I wonder how many people feel the way I do, so often trying to come home to myself. Do other people have some steady, solid, open-hearted, even-keeled way of moving through their lives? This morning, I suspect they do.
Late in the mid-January week when I begin to make a kind of comeback, return to myself a bit, I get sick. I think it is minor, but it gets worse every day for five days. My fever lasts for two weeks. When it begins, I have a hunch about why it happened (aside from the woman sitting in front of me on the bus who didn’t cover her mouth when she coughed). I think maybe it’s because I started to come back. I scheduled my Valentine’s Day retreat that was prompted by a sleeping dream in early December. I wrote two blog posts, the first ones since November. I was engaged, moving forward, wobbly baby steps. It happened to me once during a weeklong writing workshop. I got sick after days of writing hard stuff, making a start with difficult material. I don’t claim to completely understand it. It’s as if the psyche and the soul are freed up when we make even small forward movement through things that have been piling up or dammed. Then because the blockages disperse on those levels, they crumble in the body, too, and the body washes away the remnants, piles of tree limbs tumbling free. Weeks later, when I am all but well, I wake to this thought again, wry half-grin on my face. (I have a tendency to be wry.) It comes to me then that getting sick and feeling miserable doesn’t strike me as the greatest reward for a breakthrough.
I’m agitated when I walk outside. We’ve made course rules, no cross-talk, no unasked for feedback. I’m afraid I will break them, blurt things out, cause harm. I face west, stretch my spine. I swing my arms from side to side, let the warm desert wind brush away my shame.
I walk back down my gravel driveway after taking out the trash. I see a lone guayaba on the ground, bend to pick it up, turn it over. It’s beautiful, ripe and unmarred, untouched by bird or desert rat. The very last one, I suspect. I’d thought the two I ate three days ago would be the end of them. I stand cradling the small perfect fruit in my palm, this sweet surprise. I thank my guayaba tree, kiss a patch of smooth dark trunk between the lovely peeling bark skin. I feel lucky and grateful. Then I move, gentle, through the big palm fronds that brush my trailer, and I feel my sadness. Is it because of my family? Maybe. Maybe it is that. And maybe it is touched by autumn, too, the changing light, the ending in this, the movement toward the new. I love the changing of the seasons, the anticipation in that coming to be. But it’s a time of letting go, too. When I was young I always felt a kind of longing in the fall. I called it “autumn aches.” Maybe what I feel today is that. And maybe I feel the earth’s sorrow, as well. I open my wooden gate, careful of the guayaba I am holding. The Mexican petunias are a wild splash of purple in the center of the courtyard, a volunteer sunflower, big new bloom, beside them. I stop inside the gate, press the guayaba to my lips, breathe the scent of it. The sparrows lift back into the bougainvillea, soft movement, brushstroke on paper. The sadness, I tuck away. I’ll carry it with me, let it live, quiet, just beneath this joy.