Monday, January 11, 2010

Peace-Making, Despair & Resolution

I will finish my book manuscript.

I will, in fact, begin my book manuscript. And I will finish it. This year.

That is my resolution. And it's a difficult one, because I've been wanting to write this book since... well, since forever, it seems. And yet, there's always something standing behind me, as if looking over my shoulder, throwing a shadow across the page. I might call it fear — fear to turn back to look over the past several years and delve deeply into the frustration and loneliness that brought me to this place, or fear to share this part of me in a form that strangers and, worse yet, family members might freely peruse, giving perhaps only cursory thought to it, not understanding. O yes, there's the old fear of misunderstanding skulking there. But I think the truth is, what I'm really afraid of is what I might ask of others. I'm afraid of asking others to face despair.

courtesy of elston, via flickrBecause in some ways, that's the worst of what I might do. There was a moment — a moment that now lingers in my memory like a haunted hillside where no one ever goes anymore and the stone footprints of some forgotten foundation lie half-hidden in the overgrown weeds, outlining where the ancient house once stood — there was that moment. When I rested quietly beneath the crabapple tree and willed my body to dissolve into mud, willed the worms and flies to turn over my flesh into compost, willed the rain to wash the pulpy heart muscle from its cage of bone so that I would be empty, so that I could empty myself finally, once and for all, into the world. That was despair. And it was, in some ways, beautiful. In some ways, like a surrender, a submission to the force of life and spirit that kept this mass of molecules and neural twingeing cohering in form when everything else seemed to have dropped away. God was not there. Love had not saved me; it had only intensified my sense of longing and separation, my impotence. I cannot choose, I am not free. Let me dissolve, let me give myself up to this tragic beautiful mess of hungry nature... so that my love might, somewhere, do somebody some good. Echoes.

First, you have to love something that much, you have to want something like peace (or God) with your entire being — and I don't mean the "rest in peace" kind of escape from responsibility and pain, but the active, squirming interconnection of creation that throbs through everything. You have to want it so much that you would die in order to accomplish it, or just to get out of its way and let it happen. And then, you have to know that it doesn't matter, that it's too big for you, that you are, either way, too small and careless and fragile. Because that is love: love is touching something bigger than you, too big for you to control. If you cannot touch that hugeness and feel your life like a flicker of sardonic laughter on the edge of chaos, then it isn't love. If you do not reach out with all of your ridiculously insignificant being and seek for it knowing full well your ineptitude and failures, it isn't love. It isn't love, if it doesn't drive you to despair.

This is not some teenage-angst love poem. It's not that kind of despair. It's the despair of ecstatic helplessness, the utter out-going of surrender. You cannot live your life this way, and so you don't. You give it up — and yet somehow, it goes on anyway. Even your life doesn't need you. I made a resolution then, too, that I would eat and drink and work to pay for shelter, and I would wait. I would let my life go on, if that's what it insisted on doing. I would stand up from under the crabapple tree and go home, and I would keep the body fed and healthy, I would exercise and think and breathe and meditate and write (because these things were a necessary discipline), and besides that I would simply wait. I knew who would win out in the end, after all; suicide by living well is still suicide. There were days when I thought maybe this was something like what Christ had felt (or Jesus the historical person, if that's all he was, some poor sod who'd had his body broken on account of his for-so-loving the world): wanting, whatever the cost, for my existence to contribute even one minute particular to the overwhelming Divine Loveliness of Being, and more than that, wanting painfully to just Not Screw It Up.

And somewhere in that despair, I found freedom. Not go-kill-some-foreign-jerks-who-object-to-imperial-capitalism-to-protect-our-freedom kind of freedom. Not even freedom the way I'd always thought I had it all along, that freedom of free will, the freedom to think and experience thinking, to be aware and to experience self-awareness. No, I found a freedom that exists within the tension of Perfect Will and Perfect Love, within the paradox of that loneliness of being a being who longs to unite with Being, and that loneliness of being a being who is already and has always been united with Being. And it is because of that freedom that I can believe in peace, in the possibility of pacifism as peace-making, as creativity that weaves a world of beauty and integrity and breathless, messy Spirit.

And so I've been trying for a while now to write a book about peace. My blog posts last June (and recent articles published in Sky Earth Sea) are ways that I have tiptoed around the idea, trying to work up my courage. But the truth is, I do not know a way to peace-making except through real love, and so too through real despair. (The man who invented the peace sign says he wanted to evoke the image of a person holding their hands outstretched in despair, the peasant before the firing squad.) And the idea that I might not be capable of writing a book that can give to someone this necessary love of existence, of being, of Spirit, is hardly terrifying at all compared to the possibility that I just might succeed, even the least little bit, and suddenly find that what I have given is something painful and heart-dissolving and... awful. Can we make peace without experiencing despair? Can we skim the surface and come away mostly unscathed but still better for it and ready with our hands clean and our tongues ready? (Can I even make any kind of sense to people when I'm bogged down by poetry, rhetoric and convoluted sentence structures?)

And then there is the part of me that feels (please, Pagans, forgive the Old Testament reference) like Job after the game is done — a bit of me that is scarred over and will probably always carry a certain amount of resentment and hardness for what I went through, a part that might not ever completely heal or cease mourning for when I thought I was innocent, when I was not yet burned up. There are people who love me deeply now, better than I have ever been loved — but this part of me that used to really believe I deserved it and could revel in such love, that part is slower to respond and may be a permanent cynic. (And so there is also joy, the disbelieving shock of discovering, over and over, that love, too, comes whether you believe in it or not, that like life itself, love doesn't need your faith in order to be real.)

But peace-making isn't about being joyful or feeling good all the time. And if I made a resolution once, I can do it again. So I'm giving myself a year, a year to write the book I'm afraid to write, a year to churn out whatever terrible drivel and agonizing truth might be left over lingering in my skin from that afternoon under the crabapple tree. This year.

This year. I will begin my book manuscript.

And I will finish it.


  1. Please, please do. I realize in reading your posts about peace that I don't have a clue what the word means. What does it mean to make peace? How does one go about it, and how do you know when you have it? Is it an aspirational thing, or is it something that can truly be found? Is it something fleeting that happens in moments - if I am feeling peaceful tonight but know that a fight awaits me tomorrow, is that peace? Is it something you get other people to do ("you over there, be peaceful!") or is it something that is found within? I understand the word in normal usage, of course, but as a spiritual quality I just don't get it. I'm hoping that you can help me with that.

  2. You know, I have been hoping for this since I found your blog. Your voice is so clear, it needs to be heard beyond the confines of the internet.

    The peace symbol - I have done some musings on it, not knowing anything about its origin or its creator. Did you know that it also depicts a rune of the Older Futhark, Algiz? (I am quite certain that the creator was not aware of this conincidence). Alas, the rune is reversed... Algiz can be interpreted as representing an individual who has been through a process of initiation and transformation and emerged empowered, standing with hands stretched to the sky, totally present, saying "I am ready". Or as the tree of life in full bloom.

    In "reverse mode" it is truly a symbol for despair.

    The question is: how can we go beyond? It seems that we must walk right through desperation and the feeling of helplessness. And do our part, as small as it may be. When we come out on the other hand, it may be time for a new symbol...

    May your book project be blessed, especially at times of stagnation and uncertainty. And may the Gods smile upon you!

  3. Wow. Just wow. Your description of love, and ecstatic experience.. the pitfalls, the despair, the giving up. Very close to home. Wow.

  4. I just wanted to say that I found the passion behind these words to be simply beautiful. I wish you the best of luck on your manuscript. I know I for one would look forward to reading such a book!

  5. You have a gift with words, and a knowledge of what you want to do with your life. It's a wonderful combination.

  6. In my Trad we call that "despair and acceptance" the Mad Howling. Because it's sort of like standing on the edge of a cliff, with every gale in the world blowing through you, yelling at it to stop. It won't. You have to stop fighting and let it pass through you.