Reflection

A sobering reminder

I spent Saturday and part of Sunday on a vigil at the bedside of a friend who was severely injured in an auto rollover accident (may there be a special hell for the people who produce and defend SUVs in the face of the overwhelming evidence that they are lethal machines). She may or may not make it, and, either way, in the wake of this horrible accident, two children, ages six and eight, are now for all times inhabited with the memory of an accident in which they were participants, and which resulted in their mother lying, lifeless and mangled, outside the car in which they were riding.

At such moments, one wants to rage against God, make bargains with death, whatever is involved. It makes me curse automakers, has me wandering into dark abstractions where a blithe, indifferent president is using bombs and weapons to reduce children in foreign countries to the same confused, terrified loneliness that is working its way into the heart of these two children so close to me. But none of that serves the larger good.

I know these feelings too well. I have been here before. I must indulge such feelings, even as I resist them. No good can come of generalizing, but no good can come of denial. Sometimes the world is a harsh place, and finding an appropriate response to that harshness is the task that confronts us all.

I muddled about in this dilemma in Calm Surrender as well as in Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace, and was able, for the most part, to find spiritual gifts in the darkness. But it is not easy; it’s never easy.

These are the times that take the measure of one’s belief in good intentions and good thoughts as vehicles of healing and change. No room for Pollyanna optimism here. A horribly disfigured face, a dwelling that may no longer be able to house a strong spirit — such things do not respond well to twittering optimism and seven step approaches to elevated consciousness.

One can easily retreat to fatalism, quietism, a buddhic acceptance, or a casting of one’s self into the arms of a personal God. And all are options. But denial is not. Two young children are now folding and unfolding clothes, acting out giddy behaviors, and trying to find ways to disappear into the moment while being kept from their mother who is in a distant hospital in a distant city, and whose last image in their eyes is as a lifeless form lying bloody in a pile of shattered glass.

A fragile thing, life, and an indomitable thing, the human spirit. These children will heal, or at least anneal, and will go on to live adult lives, as we all do. With luck, good medicine, and the grace of God, they will do so in the caring presence of their mother. But, they may have to do it in the presence of only a memory, and a scream frozen in time.

I write this for no reason, and with no conclusion. Only the reminder to hug those close to you, to reach across the hard boundaries of embarrassed self-consciousness, and to tell those with whom you share your life that you love them and that their presence is a blessing.

We are too soon separated, too soon gone, and seldom at a time of our own choosing. Life must be celebrated when it can. Now is a good time to do so.

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Joseph project

In the strange, fleeting way that is northern Minnesota, the first hints of fall are already in the air. This morning I saw my first leaf beginning to turn from summer green to autumn yellow. It is a bittersweet moment, because it portends a quiet, restful passage into fall, while reminding us that our summers here are short almost beyond understanding. You can’t even grasp the totality of the experience before intimations of change are in the air.

But, even so, we still sit on our screen porch late into the evening, listening to looncalls and watching moonlight dance upon the lake, always reminding us that it’s good to be alive.

I’ve been pushing forward on my Chief Joseph book. I have never undertaken so monumental a project. For almost two years now I have lived more in the presence of an historical event than in the real world I inhabit. The Nez Perce are my compatriots, the events of their exodus and exile my own personal narrative. My mind wanders to battlefields, specific overlooks, spots on the trail. My imaginative life is populated with images of Idaho canyons and Montana plains.

It is indeed a strange world the writer inhabits, where thought and imagination are more vibrant and vivid than daily affairs. Life becomes as much dream as reality, and dreams become continous with conscious thought.

I have decided to take a giant risk in this book. The only way I can give the story life and to do honor to the Nez Perce experience is for me to make myself a participant in the journey. Only by doing so can I create a ground level awareness of events in you, the reader. This would be fine if I were to leave it at that. But I am intent upon inhabiting a Nez Perce consciousness and affect to create a point of view. My way of entry is through inhabiting the English spoken by the Nez Perce who were interviewed after the event. Though English was their second language, and their skills of expression within it limited, the accounts they gave, not only of the journey, but of their treatment in the following decades, reveals the way they experienced and processed the events.
Thus, I’m involved in a daring kind of psychological re-creation based on a risky process of linguistic “reverse engineering.”

If this particular “blog” works, I’ll write more about this in the future. But, for now I’m going to sign off, because I may turn out to be incapable of posting this, and, thus, send it hurtling into the void. If you’re reading it, I avoided this fate. Let’s hope it shows up on your screens.

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