Outside, it is cold. It has sleeted much of the day. Sleet is ambivalent snow. Neither one nor the other, it just makes a mess. I wonder sometimes if my ambivalence creates the same affect in my own life. Neither here nor there, one nor the other. Happiness, when it comes, is not a long-term visitor, but when she arrives, I sometimes feel as if I overwhelm her, make too much of her being around. Perhaps if I gave her time to settle in, she wouldn't feel the need to leave so quickly. Sort of like the way I used to scare off lovers when I was younger. Sometimes, I just overwhelmed them with my need for their company, for their … love. And they would leave, hurriedly, sometimes cruelly.
Now, I spend a lot of time alone. My children split their time between their dad and me, and I no longer expect the men in my life to be permanent fixtures. I have learned, finally, to be alone, to like my own company, even on nights such as this when I am full of longing and wanderlust and not entirely sure of what it is that I want.
When I was younger, nights like this frightened me. The things I did to keep from having to be alone were myriad. I sought distraction, and that distraction took many forms. Men. Drugs. Bars. Television. Even books. That desire to get lost, to get totally fucked up and disoriented was strong, because if I didn't know where the hell I was then I didn't know where. I. was. To be aware of my true location, my true size, my real situation, was uncomfortable. I hate discomfort. Discomfort is dis-ease. That itchy, crawly sensation inside my own skin to be someone else, to be somewhere else, is god-awful. It makes me want to tear at my own flesh. I wish I could say that it has gone away. But it hasn't. What has changed is my ability to sit with it. To let it come into the room with me, see what it wants, see what it is trying to tell me.
A few years ago, shortly after I had left my marriage, at a moment when I felt completely adrift, I chanced upon Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. I do not remember how I found them, or why I felt compelled to buy a copy in the bookstore, but I did. I have a distinct memory of being sat in a coffeehouse in Seattle, and reading Letter #8 for the first time.
Have you ever had a moment when you have read something so true, so resonant with your own struggle, that you have vibrated upon reading it? It was as if someone had touched a gong within me.
The letter was written in August of 1904. It begins by discussing sadness as moments in which something enters into us, that, in fact, sadness is the reaction of our emotions to being confronted with something that whose meaning is not immediately apparent to us.
And to speak of solitude again, it becomes always clear that this is at bottom not something that one can take or leave. We are solitary. We may delude ourselves and act as though this were not so. That is all. But how much better it is to realize that we are so, yes, even to begin by assuming it. We shall indeed turn dizzy then; for all points upon which our eye has been accustomed to rest are taken from us, there is nothing near any more and everything is infiintely far…So for him who becomes solitary all distances, all measures change; of these changes many take place suddenly, and then, as with the man on the mountaintop, extraordinary imaginings and singular sensations arise that seem to grow out beyond all bearing. But it is necessary for us to experience that too. We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm…For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed; it is shyness before any sort of new, unforseeable experience with which one does not think oneself ready to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, not even the most engimatical, will live the relation to another as something alive and will himself draw exhastively from his own existence…We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares are set about us, and there is nothing which should intimidate or worry us. We are set down in life as in the element to which we best correspond, and over and above this we have through thousands of years of accomodation become so like this life, that when we hold still we are, through a happy mimicry, scarcely to be distinguished from all that surrounds us. We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must rry to love them.
Last week, alerted by caliberal that Eve Ensler had published a new book, I picked up a copy. Insecure at Last: Losing It In Our Security Obsessed World was not unlike reading Rilke the first time. Except for something important. The first time I read Rilke, which wasn't all that long ago, everything he said resonated, even if I felt I wasn't ready for the truth I was reading. I knew that I was suffering, but in reality, it was my fear of potential suffering that could still happen to me that was absolutely paralyzing. I did not think that I could bear one more moment of pain, that anything else that life had to throw at me would undo me. But Rilke opened something up in me that night. It made me aware that my fear would only lead me down the same paths I had already traversed. Those paths had led me to the place I was. All of my attempts to avoid suffering had simply created new ways for suffering to get in.
When I read Ensler last week, I found myself shaking my head in agreement. Not in the "aha" moment, but rather, in the recognition that fear has driven many, many people to forfeit their freedoms, to justify torture and war, to pledge allegiance to madmen, for that false sense of security. And in reading Ensler, and in being reminded of all that we have given up out of fear, made me want to … what?
At what point do people "get" that false security is allowing our fear of possible futures to pollute our right nows? There are worse things than the monsters. There is being paralyzed by fright, sitting in the cave watching shadows, afraid to go out into the sunlight. I feel as if I'm living in a nation of cave-dwellers. But I have hope, because I think that there are a lot more people venturing outside, braving their fears to really examine where our need for security has brought us. That is the "right now" that I see.