I Will Think About Your Heart

“Does the earth know what passes in those stars that are hurled like a spark of fire across the firmament–so far that we perceive only the splendor of some?…I never feel myself more alone than when I open my heart to some friend, because I then better understand the insuperable obstacle.” – Guy de Maupassant

In the morning we’ll have oysters and fruit. Leftovers, nuts, pieces of pie. I’ll watch you run on the beach until the fog rolls out. I’ll offer you coffee and another piece of pie. I’ll go for a swim. You’ll read a book. We’ll take naps together on the one scrap of grass we can find. If we were to die or if aliens discovered us, this remnant of civilization, they’d find our hands crossed into the leaves of our book, our chests rising and falling with breathing, even in a second Pompeii.

In the evening we’ll go dancing. Do you remember when your mom surprised us back in your high school room? “We’re only dancing,” you ran down the hallway calling after her. I only snorted out laughter so hard I could have made water fly.

I’ll collapse too early back into the wicker chair. There will be uneaten cuts of meat on my plate. Pork chops and slices of chicken, beef juice and scalloped potatoes turning lukewarm. The saxophonist will be swaying. The stars will start to dance a little too. I’ll search for you but won’t find you until I see you crying softly in the corner behind the plants. You’ll pretend you weren’t crying, and I’ll pretend I didn’t see you. I’ll read you poetry I wrote on my napkin. It won’t be mine. Chaucher’s.

We’ll order coffee and bring it up to our rooms. You’ll carry the cream and the sweet caramels that the waitress brought to us on a plate. We’ll stay up the night talking, both slowly and quickly, until the moon begins to fade into the smear of light that crosses the sky. We’ll pack our suitcases. We’ll forget about the caramels. We’ll sleep in and forget for just one moment about the sadness and the pain.

We will drive to your old home in the early afternoon before it gets too hot. Your sisters will clean the house. Your older sister will offer us drinks. Your younger sister will sit in the couch between a roomful of people that feel to me like strangers, beckoning us into the next piece of conversation.

So we will pass the afternoon until the curtains can be drawn and the windows opened to let in the cool smells of the evening. Everyone will leave. Your older sister will go to bed with a remark about the kitchen, not needing to say that she wished she had the strength to help more with the rest of the house. Your younger sister will stand with me as we see her off. I’ll say my sad words to her. She will touch my hand then touch my arm, feeling its hair. I’ll meet your eyes across the room. You’ll be standing in the door. You’ll be too angry to be tired. You’ll be exhausted. I’ll try to come to you, with your sister on my arm. But you, for a moment, will slip away.

You’ll have made it as far as the table. The iced tea will have run watery and warm, but we’ll drink it anyway, the three of us. We’ll play cards. We’ll try to make each other laugh, first you and then each other, until our chests feel sore as if we were coughing.

We’ll eat what is still good of the food your sister brings in from the tables and watch as she takes everything that is left to the trash and some to the sink. We will hear the scraping of the garbage disposal for about four seconds. At first it will sound like the way our laughter felt in our chests. I will think about sleeping on the beach with you the day before, our faces getting burnt, our arms and legs, water bottles, and the pages of our books crusted with sand. We will watch your sister filling another trash bag. You will stand to help. I will be too dizzy with tiredness and free of logic to notice you are gone until I am surrounded by the silence of curtains and buzzing fans.

You will come back and say you saw the stars out, tears in your eyes.Your sister will join you on the front deck, and I will find a bed to sleep in.

As I nudge my body into the sheets, I will think about your heart, and the saxophonist’s and the way your arms clench when you run and imagine the sounds your feet make, puff puff against the floor of the beach sky, tossing the sand behind you as you propel yourself into the disappearing morning fog.

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“A Walk”

Statecollege1I wrote this back in college during a time when I was reading a lot of Thomas Merton and learning about silence and solitude. I was also grieving the loss of a sort of friend. I think I should also add that though there are many places and seasons in which to experience solitude, there may not be a more beautiful one than fall in central Pennsylvania.

“A Walk”

Today, I’ll just move on

like I woke up and stepped from my bed.

I don’t feel as quiet or alone,

but I still fear these things

in prayer. I found warmth as sharp and low

as a small bright candle.

In prayer I found reason for friendship

and contemplated God’s motherly and fatherly love.

In prayer I found silence and solitude,

the remembering of swollen voices of past pain,

and the acceptance of these and all love’s fallen leaves.

When we watch the sun set down through the branches

we forget the clouds and the cold, cold rain.

We remember the sharp breeze in our face,

the moss and the frozen mud underfoot.

Only with closeness with God can I trust for more closeness.

And I’ll always remember you and count you as one

of my closest friends.

Silence as Freedom: The Furnace of Transformation, Part 3

1872735-08I don’t enjoy enjoy hiking in the Western Sierra Nevadas, specifically the Lakes Basin of Plumas County.

If you don’t like a dramatic landscape, a variety of life and sound and shadow, a harmonious feeling of connection with nature, then you might try hiking in these mountains I grew up with.

There are no sheer cliffs, very few monstrous peaks with vistas of plunging canyons, hardly any lush hillsides with twisting roots to climb over–just the endless rippling of too-dry pines and firs, a mountainside as pale as the blank sky, and trails as empty and unremarkable as foot prints on the moon–if maybe a little itchier.

When a friend, from Connecticut, told me she liked this kind of hiking, not in spite of but because of it’s barrenness, my view of these mountains started to shift, like when the wind picks up and lifts the dust off the meadows and rocks and dry creek beds.

Hiking in the Western Sierras, to me, is like silence.

And here’s why. Not only do I take in very little speech from these mountains and their valleys–words like starkness, nakedness, and emptiness are richer than the places they describe–but my own speech is silent to these hills. If speech is “our most powerful weapon of manipulation” (says Richard Foster, who has written much on the discipline of silence), what can my voice do to impact this massive and incomprehensible landscape? People feel small when they look at familiar stars, but how could I breathe out a name for each stitch in the ever-widening pattern of boulders and sun-scorched trees?

I’ve been learning in my reading that silence has two components: freedom from speaking and freedom from hearing. My growing acceptance with hiking in the Western Sierras (this is the most affirmative word I can use right now) accompanies my growing awareness of how experiencing silence and solitude help me listen to our Creator.

Silence as freedom from speaking

There are so many times I’ve wished I had not spoken too quickly and ended up hurting others or misrepresenting the truth. It takes time and silence to find the right words. And in our silence we give over control.

One way I see this giving over of control is when I am challenged to take extra time to pray for someone. Instead of telling things to God (as if I needed someone to rant to), I have felt the Spirit prompting me, even inviting me into those moments–at first uncomfortable–of waiting to hear what this person needs from God. I don’t know how much of my payer is still a reflection of my opinions and sometimes judgments of a person, but the impulse to wait to hear from God what I should say feels pure and truthful.

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me.
Till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood… (Psalm 73:15-17)

Silence as freedom from hearing

Many people have suggested that the goal of practicing silence is to hear God better.

There are so many things we can hear instead which can make this harder. The prophet Elijah experienced first wind, then an earthquake, and then a fire when he stood alone in the cave of a mountain waiting for God, but God wasn’t in any of these. He heard God in a gentle whisper.

God can speak in many ways. Silence and solitude help us hear God’s gentle whisper.

I think listening looks different for different people. For instance, some people find silence in the great outdoors. As an introvert, I won’t find silence when walking around the park or watching a sunset. I’ll quickly find myself composing a bad poem in my head. There is too much stimulation. Better to pray in my inner room, as Jesus said. But even alone in my room, I can spend quite a bit of time reclining in the comfy couch of my internal world (or, the bristly couch of my fears and anxieties) without actually listening to God.

Again, I need to try to let go of the control of my thoughts in order to experience the deeper freedom that comes with listening to God’s voice.

Says the poet John Donne:

Churches are best for prayer, that have least light:
To see God only, I goe out of sight:
And to scape stormy dayes, I chuse
An Everlasting night.