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Feeling the River (Peter)

November 2006

Cat pointed out something the other day: While I am the one who often expresses a wish for more social life, she is the one who usually makes it happen. Now there are a couple of reasons for that. One, as she correctly observed, is that she is sometimes a naysayer. She’s very often too tired, too sick, too stressed-out, too busy with grading to go out on the town and enjoy herself, so I’ve learned to let her be the one to make plans for the both of us because if I do, they won’t happen. But the other reason has to do with me, and my own creeping sluggishness. I get into a social rut, I get out of the habit of intimacy (like getting out of the habit of writing) and then I forget how to do it and how to enjoy it. We had Thanksgiving dinner this year at the meetinghouse, and it was very nice. There were about a hundred people there, and it was fun chatting with David and Will and Laura. But it was me that decided not to stay for the singing after dinner, because I was a little bored and talking felt a little strained and I wanted to go home and watch Doctor Who alone with Cat.

So what’s wrong with me? It’s like lying down on the ground for a nap and waking up to find that vines and tree roots have grown over my body. What happened to my signature style of intimacy?

Cat was talking yesterday about “the river” as one of her images of God. There was one spring in Randolph, Vermont when the river through the center of town was especially swollen with runoff from melting snow, and she could walk out to the middle of the bridge and put her hands on the railing and feel through her hands and through the soles of her feet the whole bridge vibrating with the rush of water flowing under it. She says that at Quaker meeting, often it’s like she can do the same thing—put out her hands and touch the railing and feel the power of the river of joy that runs under the whole universe.

I’ve got my own river image, but it’s not as nice. For me, it’s like the river runs mostly underground, through great subterranean tunnels of stone, and I can’t see or feel it at all most of the time. But the underground river is the source of all life, and people’s lives grow up around those places where the tunnels break the surface, where the river roars through channels cut in deep gorges. But you can’t swim in a river like that. So instead we build bridges across the gorge, and build our houses on those bridges. And life, day-to-day, is mostly about engineering that bridge to keep is safe and secure. The more I focus on that, the smoother my life runs, but focusing on the bridge takes me out of touch with the river below. The water is what really creates and sustains the whole enterprise, but I don’t feel it. What I feel is the joists that hold up the bridge. I’m only really aware of the river when all the rickety structures I’ve built over it fall down, or threaten to.

In times of crisis, the magick is there when I need it. The Gods are there when I need them. But day-to-day? I can go really deep at a Pagan gathering. That night that my silver athame ended up in the ford under the full moon, I mean holy crap! And at New England Yearly Meeting too, really deep. But today? And last week and next week?

And I do need that awareness day-to-day. Another thing Cat said yesterday: The proper life of a Quaker is not to save the world; it is to be close to God. And, damn, how do I keep from forgetting that? I mean, the words are easy. I could carve the words in stone, leave sticky notes for myself all over the house, have them tattooed to my forehead, but how do I keep from losing their meaning and substance in all of the day-to-day?

God and friends and writing. For me, it seems that all three will thrive or none of them will. But so much of the focus of my life has to be on building and rebuilding that bridge, and my day-to-day gets frittered away on teaching & grading & lesson planning, on laundry & dishes, on paying bills and trying to keep up with the finances. And also on polite chit-chat with friends I won’t miss when they’re gone.

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