Unconventional Wisdom

The trees are bare outside my Writing Shed. Four small birds share a thin branch. Persimmons hang like ornaments from another tree. It is my California home’s version of winter.

Winter is actually the beginning of things – the time when light returns. I heard once that as the sun goes into Capricorn, the moon goes into Cancer, calling to the seeds planted deep in the earth that it is time for them to wake up and start their journey of growth.

That is how it feels to me, this time of year – like something is calling me to wake up and start a new journey.

I was thinking as I sat staring at the blank screen – we need rain. And then I thought well, yes, that is what I need. To end my dry spell.

I have a fantasy that I have this audience out there that has been waiting with bated breath for my return – who wonder why I stopped writing right after I posted a blog about getting women writers out of the corner — over six months ago.

I wish I knew why I did. I certainly started many posts. But none of them seemed to find their way. The blogs I started included: about a bowl filled with plastic fetuses at my local Farmer’s Market on “Family” night; the reaction to the movie The Help; that what America means to me was formed by the civil rights movement – and all its successors; about the death of a high school friend who gave up his law practice and became a teacher at our former high school; about the two “young” people who had a booth at the local Farmer’s Market that displayed the poster of Obama with a Hitler moustache; about the death of Steve Jobs.

Each time, after starting to write, I felt the need to remain silent — that more would be revealed in time.

I think it was a decision. I continued to write in my journal and started writing a story. None of it was for publication. At least not yet.

And, then, this morning it became clear to me that what had been rattling around in my writer’s soul was an increasing awareness of my mortality. Not so much a fear of death. More, the unmistakable reality that life will leave me some day.

My family lives long lives. My uncle died last year at 100. My grandmother lived to 99. Her father lived to 106.

I could have close to another 40 years of life.

On the other hand, my mother died at 83 and my father at 77.

I could have somewhere between 15 and 20 years of life.

My high school friend returned from a hunting trip feeling ill, went to sleep and died of a heart attack.

He was my age.

I’ve already had six more years than Steve Jobs had.

The point is, I don’t know — we don’t know — when Death will come knocking.

So that leaves me with: how do I spend my days? In fear, or making them count?

Not surprisingly, I want to make them count.

Yet Fear hangs in the air these days, nourished by political forces that seek power as an antidote for their own fear: “Push the unworthy in front of the speeding train to prove your own worthiness—in the eyes of God.”

It can make you want to stay curled up in a seed underneath the earth. I already started unfurling myself from the seedpod, so too late for staying curled up.

During my months of silence, I read a book about cave paintings in the south of France. The oldest are 32,000 years old – those discovered in the late 90s in Chauvet. The Lascaux paintings – discovered during World War II – date back to 14,000 years ago. The author noted that the culture of cave painters lasted for some 18,000 years. He also noted that like everyone else who visited the cave paintings, he came away altered, changed in some profound way – almost unnerved.

It gave me a perspective on time, including my time. Conventional wisdom says that in the days of Google, staying silent for so much as a month can lead to death by Google contempt. I’m hoping that I was following unconventional wisdom, that there is time and room for silence even in the day of the Internet.

I started this blog in May of 2009 to change my story.  I think that taking myself out of the corner was the end of my old story — that in the silence I found my way to the beginning of my new story.

I received an email from WordPress that linked me to my 2011 statistics. I was surprised to see how few blog entries I had posted (7) and surprised to discover that nevertheless, my audience had included folks from pretty much around the world.

I think that My Writing Shed is my cave – the place where I allow my story to unfold. And, hopefully, it is a place where others discover my story and find a connection to their own.

Here’s to more story in 2012.

Wisdom Matters

I did not know Elizabeth Edwards. And yet . . .

I have not written a blog for over two months. I wanted to write something before the last election, but it was as if the cat got my tongue. I wanted to write that To Kill a Mockingbird was a fitting metaphor for the country right now; that Sarah Palin and her followers are like the Ewells. Sarah Palin, like Bob Ewell, claiming victimhood and using love of family as a weapon, revels in the power to destroy lives. Her followers seem like Mayella Ewell, who is at the mercy of her rapist and physical abuser—her father, Bob Ewell. Even greater than the rage she has for her father, is that she feels for the town people who turn a blind eye to her plight.

The only power the Ewells seem to have is derived from the conceit that being white entitles them to more than if they were black, regardless of character.

I was not able to articulate that in October. Then the election happened, and the cat seemed to disappear with my tongue.

People, I think, are feeling powerless over their lives right now. As the gap between the haves more and more and haves less and less grows greater, survival fears creep in, which provides fertile ground for tyrants—those whose pathological need for power has no boundaries or decency.

And then, there was Elizabeth Edwards. Pundits and commentators reported that she had lost her battle with cancer. When reminded that she did not look at her impending death as a battle lost, they lost their veneer of objectivity. They seemed to let in the story they were really telling: a life had ended, and though they did not yet understand why or what, she had taught them something about living.

I’ve been sorting through why I can claim the right to pause at her passing, how though I never met her, I feel affected by her life.

She was the same age as I, so perhaps that is a part of why it hits close to the bone. I admire that she took a route that was new to women when we were younger; going to law school. She embraced her entitlement to her aspirations. It took me another twenty before I even recognized I was entitled to them.

When her son was taken from her, she didn’t lose herself in work. Instead she lost herself in grief. I think that’s healthy. I think that’s why she found her way out of it. It also says to me that though she had stepped into a world that was defined by a cultural stereotype of being male, she did not become enslaved by it. She did not man up, she womaned up.

Losing the 2004 election had to be disappointing. On the same day, she learned she had breast cancer. I think the fear of being diagnosed with breast cancer lurks in the dark corner of women’s lives. Dire news about cancer returning coincided with revelations about her husband’s infidelity. The betrayal became public humiliation as it played itself out in 24-hour news cycles. What was most difficult, she said in an interview, was that all through their thirty years of marriage she had been able to turn to her husband during bad times. That’s what she had lost with his betrayal.

If anyone might feel powerless, and bitterness at being powerless, one could understand her feeling that way.

Whatever route it took her to get there, she chose grace over bitterness and powerlessness.

Women like Sarah Palin and Sharon Angle declared that their opponents needed to man up. They are enslaved to cultural stereotypes of being male, a stereotype that might provide the illusion of power over others, but ultimately carries no genuine power with it. They apparently never met Atticus Finch.

Elizabeth Edwards showed us courage and grace in the face of humiliation, disappointment, and death. We all have the power of courage and grace, regardless of what life throws our way.

She showed us how to number our days so we can apply our hearts unto wisdom.

We need leaders who know how to number their days.

We need them to woman up.