“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” ~ Emily Dickinson.
My mother once got prayed against. In an open church. By Deacon Morris. I have noticed that I tend to write more stories of my mother than my father. But perhaps it is because if you know my father, you are probably thinking: ah, Rev. Jones, and have gone off on a memory of your own. My mother was always less well understood. Well intentioned, but not good at reading situations and judging her crowd. She had strong feelings about the best and most efficient way of doing things, and assumed that others would appreciate it when she pointed it out. Which she did. Often. Unsolicited. Jamaican Post Office? She told them how to be more customer friendly and efficient. Local storekeeper? She told them how to reorganize their counter. Church deacons? Cleaning ladies? You get my drift.
So that Sunday morning, when her husband was away preaching up in the hills and Deacon Morris was leading the service, he had the perfect opportunity to put Mrs. Parson in her place. As he prayed, he asked the Lord to remind Mrs. Jones that “…not to the strong is the battle, not to the swift is the race; but to the true and the faithful, victory is promised through Grace.” I don’t know if I remember the actual prayer, or the many times we retold that story. I certainly don’t know how my mother felt about it. But she was a strong-willed woman, with clear opinions about right and wrong, and probably felt it was her Christian duty to try to straighten the crooked, and challenge assumptions. I doubt the prayer fixed her.
It can be exhausting to live around people who have firm ideas about right and wrong. 38 years ago today (when the two sevens clash!) I married such a man. He (like my mother) was unrelenting in his beliefs about the world, and knew it was his duty to share his understanding of the world with others. At every opportunity. His beliefs could be very basic (there is apparently only one right way to fold clothes), or very lofty. He believed in a free and united Africa, that all people of African descent were Africans (not African American, not Jamaican), and that revolution was the only answer. Exhausting to live around that while trying to raise children in America, and earn a living, and fold clothes the right way.
I admire those who are passionate about life, who have no ‘off ’switch, but sometimes you have to pace yourself. I have two friends who have recently had surgery, and both of them learned (painfully) that the only way to full recovery is to learn to pace yourself. If, as you are feeling better, you decide to do all those things you have been putting off, impatient to be back up to full speed, you run the risk of setting yourself back a day or two, perhaps even jeopardizing the healing process. We are so trained to ignore discomfort and push through pain that we miss those signals that tell us to slow down, to be open to the messages our body is sending us.
The body itself is capable of high performance, of responding to all manner of stress and challenges. But it also needs down time, time to recover and regroup. We forget the importance of a good night’s sleep, a balanced diet, a balanced life. The alarming news that relentlessly fills the airwaves leaves us on edge, our brains wired and our bodies girded for disaster. But the wear and tear of being always on the alert, of imagining the end of the world is at hand, assures our own destruction. Elevated levels of cortisol soar through our blood stream, raising blood pressure and risk of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. And the world will keep on turning, with or without us.
I heard an interview about the playwright Edward Albee recently (‘Whose afraid of Virginia Woolf’) who died last year. He stipulated in his will that any of his work which was incomplete should be destroyed. He was so fussy about his writing that he did not want anything seen that was not completely polished to his liking. One actress said that when she was rehearsing one of his plays he stopped her after she spoke one line and told her: “I didn’t hear the comma.” That attention to detail, that desire for perfection is admirable, but a little daunting. Sometimes we have to be willing to mess up, to be less than perfect, in order to allow for the beauty of spontaneity to seep in.
As we try to understand a world which seems to have gone mad; where what once would have been unbelievable has become mundane; it is important to maintain balance. We need to pace ourselves, to support those who need our support, and to choose our own battles wisely. We also need to be open to the possibilities, for solutions may appear from unlikely places. Whether it is young women in Afghanistan, fighting for the right to compete in an international robotics competition, or mayors in cities around the US deciding to abide by the very climate accord the president has chosen to leave, there are signs of hope to be seen. If we keep our souls ajar, and listen for the comma.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May your soul remain open to possibilities, and may you find the patience to pace yourself.