Nov 14, 2010
A wounded deer leaps the highest. --Emily Dickinson
This has been an astonishingly difficult fall season at Brightside Acres. The sensation of my days akin to the tear-stunned blur of staring straight into the sun. Something we all know we aren’t supposed to do; we might ruin our eyes.
Indeed, many days I have found it difficult to see beyond the bright-white nimbus. It attracts, catches me up and holds me even as it delivers blindness, and promises destruction. I am a deer in a cosmic headlight—not like, am. Fear isn’t what transfixes me so much as disbelief. One moment I’m walking in the forest, foraging for acorns, the next moment, I can’t see a damn thing. Just light that burns so bright I’m unable to blink.
Deer aren’t stupid. They’re simply thinking WTF is this? Fight or flight? And which way to run? What if there’s another one of Whatever This Thing Is over here? Or over there?
I’ll tell you this much, I’ve developed a new empathy for deer caught by surprise on West Virginia asphalt. And I’m more careful than I’ve ever been driving these mountain roads.
I’m also more grateful for any glimpse, however fleeting, of Life beyond the headlamp blaze—mine or the one aimed toward me. In recent days it has occurred to me that a tiny, mighty seed lies buried in this gratefulness.
I’ve decided that I take exception to the saying: Life is what happens while we’re making other plans. Uh-uh. Nope.
Life is what we have the courage to see, feel, taste and smell while Existence opens up a can of whup-ass on our heads.
Existence is Dustin Hoffman in the dentist’s chair in Marathon Man. Life is Tim Robbins standing in the rain at the end of The Shawshank Redemption.
This fall, I have been more thoroughly challenged than ever before to find Life—or perhaps better stated, let Life find me—in the midst of the forces of Existence, forces which have seemed all but willfully determined to destroy this very capacity. Of all the unexpected this’s-and-that’s which have occurred, what I’ve most resented is the presence of such insidious power. Like black mold growing behind sheet-rock after floodwater recedes, I’ve discovered Existence colonizing the interstices of my heart, leaving a residue both bitter and numbing. Separating me from my senses with a shocking, clogging paste.
Believe me, if I thought it would do any good whatsoever, I’d cut a hole in my chest and stand in the rain. I’d stand in the rain until the water ran clear.
Such feelings have led me to wonder about the possibility or even the desirability of balance. Balance defined as equilibrium, a stable state in which each and every force is met by an equal and opposing force, thus canceling one another.
I’ve long held that Life requires my openness to the “all” of it. No picking-and-choosing. To know joy, I must risk pain. To know union, I must risk grief. To know trust, I must be vulnerable. To succeed, I must certainly fail. There is no “safe” way to experience Life. Not fully.
Oh, sure. There’s the option of half-life. Quarter-life. A glimmer-o’-life. Sure, there’s increasing levels of emotional safety directly aligned with decreasing levels of sensory input.
By contrast, Life without diminishing qualification requires the engagement of all my senses. Which requires I acknowledge Death. Every day.
This is not, in my opinion, the same as seeing Life as a zero-sum game, a circumstance in which all the gains and losses, all the pain and suffering, all the growth and decay, all the knowledge and ignorance cancel each other out. Where entropy reigns. Where nothing accrues. Where zero is the sum, no matter what the equation.
Uh-uh. Nope. I don’t believe that.
If zero-sum describes the much-vaunted balance, the much-sought-after equilibrium to which we are supposed to aspire, then I’ll take imbalance any day. And with it all the possibility, all the untapped hope, an unsolved equation contains.
Whether this is the core definition of optimism or insanity, I’m all-in.
The abject hopelessness of an existential zero-sum is an interpretation of reality that simply can’t sustain me. So much worse than Presbyterian predestination, balance demands resolute non-destination. Balance is me duct-taped to chair. Equilibrium is a guy with a suspicious bag of tools, shining a flashlight in my face, telling me: “No matter what happens, you ain’t going nowhere. You run away. I’ll bring you right back here.”
I’m not above being bewitched and bewildered. But there is a limit to how long I can stare straight into that false light. Call this limitation what you will.
I certainly can’t claim to have arrived at the One-True Answer.
Perhaps for every joy Life allows, Existence must excise an equivalent and therefore requisite pound of flesh. Perhaps negative forces prowl the cosmos seeking positive forces like dog hair seeks Polartec. Perhaps balance is designed-in. Perhaps Zero is The Sum.
My best explanation for why I believe in God is that these answers make no sense to me.
These answers leave no fertile space in which the tiny, mighty seed of gratitude might sprout. They leave no peaceful place in which the wounded deer might cease her frantic wandering and heal.
They leave no opportunity for Good to have any impact, and thus any meaning whatsoever.
They leave no possibility for Grace.
Grace, which exists in imbalanced abundance on this mountain.
The in-your-face, Camaro-style flirtation of late October tomatoes. The giggle-inducing happiness of early November bluebirds. The awe-struck silence of a huge flock of turkeys sailing from the Spring Road clear across Hidden Valley to the far ridge. The unsurpassed beauty of a milkweed seed borne aloft by a nimbus of silken strands. One opalescent bubble after another, rising up and up higher into the still mid-November air. Back-lit by a ball of afternoon sun, they float through the bare branches of locusts and hawthorns. They shimmer and shine.
I stare right at them. I watch them meld with the sun.
I don't blink. But I'm not blinded.
The longer I stare, the better my sight.