Tag Archives: John O’Donohue

Hiding in Plain Sight

1 Jan

IMG_9163We were just stepping away from the wood-fired pizza hearth out into the mild winter Brooklyn night, squinting under street lamps and marveling at the scent of smoke clinging to our coats, when the whole scene gained one more very fitting element. Wildlife. I looked up and saw the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen—truly, bear-like in stature—scrambling up a bare and spindly tree across the street. He (I have to think it was a male, the poor creature was gigantic) kept wiggling clumsily upward, alternately backing and forwarding himself further out onto branches that didn’t look like they would support his weight. The further up he went, the more sparse the coverage got, and soon he was as conspicuous as an errant helium balloon caught on ascent.

But actually, he was not nearly conspicuous enough to attract attention in this city. No one looks up. Ever. Especially if other people are looking upward somewhere in the vicinity. People looking skyward are either tourists, lost souls, scammers trying to draw attention to themselves, or staring at some source of trouble that will require some sort of action. Each of these scenarios are repellant to most New Yorkers. Except me and my friends. We look up.

We were doing so for a few minutes, making gasping noises and sharing commentary about the size of the raccoon and the proximity of a fairly large park, and of course, you know, the presence of that picnic source for urban wildlife, garbage cans. No one else stopped walking to look up with us, and finally, as the raccoon took increasingly fearful note of our gaze, my friend said, “Oh, he’s terrified. Let’s leave him alone so he can find his way back down.”

We headed our separate ways, and I have every confidence that our furry friend was clever enough to soon find more adequate shelter. Wily raccoon lore lends plenty of credit to the species, even if this particular member seemed a bit out of sorts with tree selection.

That was my first raccoon sighting here, but there are frequent eye-witness accounts of all sorts of wildlife on these islands. (I can hear people grumbling about the marginalization of wildlife in urban habitats, and let me reassure you that there are plenty of animal advocates here in NYC, so calm down.) What’s more intriguing to me is the number of people who missed out on the temporary thrill of knowing that there was another midnight-snacker outside the corner deli that evening.

At any given moment, we’re missing out on plenty of stuff here, and everywhere, all the time. In fact, as the late, great poet and philosopher John O’Donohue pointed out in an interview with Krista Tippett on the NPR show “On Being” in 2007 (they replayed the conversation this summer, and I was thrilled because of course it turns out that he was the author of the Irish Blessing I’m so obsessed with, but that’s another story)… we’re missing out on quite a bit even  when we’re sitting at the same table with someone. He put it this way:

“I think the beauty of being human is that we’re incredibly, intimately near each other. We know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it’s like inside another person. And it’s amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you’re looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.”

There certainly can be some slight despair associated at all we might be missing, either in terms of what we don’t see or cannot know, or maybe in terms of what we don’t show others as we attempt to protect ourselves, hiding among spindly branches and wishing other people would stop looking directly at us…  but I’m going to try to remember how O’Donohue so aptly defined that notion as beautiful.

And if that’s not enough, I’m sure the universe will keep gently presenting the unexpected to remind me that it’s what we can’t know that is truly beautiful. Like yesterday, when I just happened to pull back my curtains and look outside at my backyard precisely as a huge possum ran along the back wall. A possum! Verifiably that, and not another type of city creature, was making her way through the shrubbery, and I have to say, looking rather pleased with herself for being so bold and yet so invisible at the same time. Just another pedestrian going to work, she was, and I think I may have been the only one who witnessed her in that moment. More proof that you should always look up.

Let Yourself Be That

30 Dec

IMG_1982

I apparently make it a habit to rarely be at home, and this year was no exception. Some months, I was only in my own bed four nights out of the calendar 30 or 31 for which I pay precious, precious Brooklyn rent. I don’t regret living (actually, just leave it there: I don’t regret living, full stop) in the many different experiments I put myself through this year. I let myself live in the mountains of Utah and on the beach in Southern California, I tried roaming free in Alabama shortly after returning home from Assen. I was in crummy places like Washington, DC and Baltimore, and I took up temporary residence in my childhood hometown of Minneapolis. There was time in Amsterdam and Barcelona (actually, three trips to Barcelona) and France. And there was more, much more. So much more that I’d have to consult my trusty Moleskine calendar to track it.

Oh! What a natural segue. Moleskine calendar, you say? Well, that must be precious, and since its rear pocket carries the folded poems you must carry with you at all times, you never let it out of your sight, of course.

Of course.

Except for the day in October when I actually lived my worst, most persistent recurring nightmare. I’m talking about the dream that I’m sure I’ve written about here, the one where I endlessly pack my bags and never, ever go to the airport. Or if I’m at the airport, I somehow never get to my gate, whilst losing articles that tumble from my over-filled bags.

The dream v. life metaphors are obvious, but the point is, I never make a flight in my dreams. But in real life, I’ve never missed a flight. Until October 8th, 2015. (Dramatic chord!)

I was in Minneapolis, and I was at the peak of my self-loathing for a terrible habit that was only getting worse as I aged. I was becoming one of those people who begin to pack for a trip at the precise time when they should actually be going to the airport. This was not my dream self, mind you. This was the awake version of the girl who had just arisen from her slumber packing session and was at present dawdling through the newspaper, some coffee, room service breakfast, some lying around and moping… you get the drift.

So, I loathed this girl. But I took her rumpled self down the escalator of the fancy modernist hotel where I’d indulged in an extra night because my friends’ daughter had taken ill and I was already at this conference anyway, so Overburdened Charge Card picked it up. Like I said, I loathed this irresponsible, hapless person that had taken over while my restless soul wandered elsewhere, trying to find itself.

Ahem. My hotel was 15 minutes away from the airport, which helped but also hindered me, because I abused that fact. I glanced at the free airport shuttle, filled with hapless tourists lugging those gigantic bags that only tourists carry, and checked the time. No, I had to take my own transportation, direct to my own concourse, with no stops for Sally Six Bags along the way. I summoned an Uber, smug that I was such a fancy traveler girl that I had to get a car while a van was still being loaded with more girth-testing bags and people beside me. And then I opened my Delta app to check the time of my flight.

To my horror, I saw what I’ve never seen before in my life. It said, “Information is no longer available for this flight.” Which prompted me to wonder, why, wait, what time does it leave?

It left five minutes ago.

You thought it left an hour from now, because for the first time in your life, you let your Calendar app store the flight info, and that app pretended we were on East Coast time, and we are, in fact, in the Central time zone.

A very, very quiet little thunderstorm began in my brain as I smiled at the driver who opened a door in front of me. I was living my recurring nightmare. Well, let’s see what it’s meant to teach me, I told myself in an attempt to soothe the very recently Zoloft-deprived brain in my skull.

The details of what lengths the universe went to in order to demonstrate how far I’d fallen are actually, seriously, too painful to relate here. Let’s just say I cried in the airport, in a ridiculously overpriced Uber Black Car that took me away from the airport so I could kill six hours elsewhere, at a random diner that only took cash, at a shitty bar possessing the only ATM for miles and it was out of money, on the sidewalk in front of the bar, in the stunningly proximate office of my friend’s husband, and then in a Tumi luggage store at the airport, where I let a luggage therapist try to piece me back together again in the form of needlessly overpriced bags that are nowhere near the quality of those made by my own brother. (Sigh.)

I finally did arrive home, with lots of that “kindness of strangers” stuff cheering me along the way, but little did I know that somewhere in all of that Tumi shuffling, another very small thunderstorm was erupting, and it would be two months before it was over.

I’d left my Moleskine calendar, filled with more personal details than anyone should ever put on paper, in one of the many overwrought pockets in one of the many overpriced Tumi bags in a store 1500 miles away from my home.

I didn’t realize this until I’d turned my apartment upside-down and inside-out every night for two weeks. (Sheesh, I look back on this now with true horror at how low I was a the time. You should have seen the wreck my living room was then. Unrecognizable!)

Finally, dust settling on piles of unsettled detritus all around me, I told Unrequited about my lost calendar drama one night while we planned our trip to Spain. His clenched cowboy voice rumbled across cellular transmitters from Utah: “Well. Maybe it was something that you had to let go.”

Gulp.

It’s like he knew that one of the poems in that calendar was the Irish blessing I’d read to try to convince him to love me way back in 1972 (translation, 2011). Ughhhhh… okay, yeah, I should let it go. I get it!

But the universe had other ideas. The night before our flight to Barcelona, I received a phone call from Ohio. Someone, some very lovely one, had found my calendar in a bag they’d bought in the Minneapolis airport! And in the most charming phone call I’ve ever experienced, that someone’s husband cheerily told me how yes, he’d found the poems in the back pocket when he was looking for any means of identification in the calendar. This was the one time I hadn’t written my contact information in the front of a Moleskine notebook and promised a reward of fresh-baked cookies to anyone who found it. The ONE time. Fortunately, he’d found a receipt from my tailor (whuh huh huh, I use a tailor).

Anyway. Profound gratitude pulsed my heart and filled my soul. He was going to mail the calendar back to me, and it would be waiting when I came home from Europe. I promised to send him his rightful reward of freshly baked chocolate sea-salt cookies.

“I’m not one to refuse freshly baked anything,” he said.

Except, when I came home from more Unrequited adventures with Unrequited, the calendar wasn’t there. It was not there in my mailbox, nor there on my doorstep, nor in the hands of any of my kind neighbors. It was clearly in the hands of nefarious agents of the internet-posting world where they were surely going to scan the trembly drivel on my calendar pages and share them with readers of “Found” magazine or whatever it was called. I was going to be a laughingstock. A meme. An animated .gif.

More letting go. Letttttting go. Apparently I was never meant to have this calendar again. I get it. I get it!

But do I get it? Do I have any idea why I let this completely implausible fantasy persist? No, because if I did, I would let it be the beautiful idea that it actually is—and that is, if I let go of trying to control every step that anyone makes toward my heart, someone will actually walk right up to it and embrace me (see previously mentioned Lao Tzu mantra).

Here’s what it’s all about. You see, there’s a meditation that I rarely let myself indulge in doing. It’s effect is blissfully powerful, and it leaves me feeling exactly as I did when I was a giddy little girl who still thought she could do anything in the world, because her golden, pure heart loved everyone, so why wouldn’t that love be reflected back toward her?

The meditation is called “Follow a Desire into Fulfillment.” And people, it’s a magic spell. At the end of its very short ten minutes, when you’re so elated you think you might float away, the very lovely Sally Kempton says, in the kindest, most sincere imperative ever: “Let yourself be that.”

Except she says it with all the right pauses between the words. “Let yourself (pause) be (longer pause, just a slight bit of extra emphasis ahead) that.”

If we could all let the controlled steps of the calendar go, let the missteps of lost love go, and be unafraid to follow the true desire of our hearts (ironically, that’s what the Irish Blessing that I carry is all about), we could let ourselves be that. And I reckon we’d be pretty elated.

By the way, the calendar came to me two months after I lost it, and one month after it was returned-to-sender to the kind people in Ohio. I sent them their well-deserved chocolate sea-salt cookies and I hope those confections made their Christmas as lovely as their kindness made mine. 

 

May the One You Long for Long for You

19 Jan

paperThere are three poems I carry with me, sometimes as a little bundle of folded pages worn at the seams, sometimes just one important piece at a time. I am a girl of many handbags and totes, and so each day I must reassemble which items travel with me, and even when I keep my load light, I pack at least one poem. I can always feel the carefully selected verbal talisman there, leaning against my hip through canvas or jostling around with too many glasses cases in pockets of suede.

It used to be just one poem I always carried, and so I memorized it. It’s a very long poem, too. But I know it. Still the pages are smooth as river stones now, so I carry it like some might wear a tattoo. I know it, but I need it outside myself, too.

Another joined the ranks last summer when I was riding the subway very, very late one night and sharing thoughts with a stranger about a poem displayed in one of those “Poetry in Motion” public service ads. I turned to him as I dangled from a handrail and said before he could take off his beat-laden headphones, “Do you know anything about orchids?” When headphones rested on hoodie and he asked me to repeat myself, he nodded no. But we had a very lovely talk about what could be known about orchids and what we needed to learn. We agreed to seek out more on the subject matter when we got home. “Google it!” he said, as I disembarked. I hope he googled it, too.

In between the ancient relic of a poem that I memorized and the relatively new one that came from beneath the streets is the most important poem ever. It is an Irish Blessing that one of my dearest yoga teachers read aloud in class four years ago. I almost didn’t make it to that class, I was tired and whiny, but like the most intrepid of yogis, I made the effort to drive to the farthest studio that was in my orbit in Utah. It turned out I was the only one who would show up that night, and it was fortunate, because I needed to unburden my heart, give voice to a big truth I’d reduced to a little trembling trifle.

My teacher and I, we were (and are) both the sort who find meaning in incidentals, coincidences, serendipity, happenstance and several other words for magic. We talked while we waited for no one else to eventually arrive, and then when she opened her bookmarked page and began to read the text she’d selected for that evening’s class, she actually began to cry, instantly. I didn’t panic, as it was not abnormal for me to witness. I tend to be in a lot of amazingly emotional exchanges with relative strangers. I’m like the Hallmark card commercial guru. Have thirty seconds to start weeping about your neglectful father? Here, have a Kleenex-brand tissue.

The poem, the Irish Blessing, is by this guy John O’Donohue (legit Irish name, check). I purposely have never looked in to who he is or what era he lives in, but I’m fairly certain he’s probably a contemporary living Irish Blessing writer, because his subject matter is a superior blend of eastern and western philosophy.

“Blessed be the longing that brought you here,” the first line says to the weary yogi who traveled from at least 15 miles north. Alright, so that made me cry, too. And the rest of it was so amazing that I copied down her yoga-abbreviated version of the text by hand on a piece of paper before I left the yoga studio that night. It was evidently so mystical an experience that I didn’t even try to google it then and there… how odd…

Anyway, the next day, I called Unrequited and was kinda like super demanding and said we had to have dinner before I left town on a two-week trip the next day. He agreed to meet me after work, and I folded up my pocket poem and carried it with me to the restaurant. Then, after the appropriate amount of small-talk, I tucked the folded paper under the edge of my plate and declared that I had something to say.

I was afraid to say it, of course, so I read the poem first:

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.

May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

May the one you long for long for you.

May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.

***

That’s pretty good, right? I finished reading, folded paper, and put it back under the edge of my plate. Then I told Unrequited that I had cleared a huge place in my heart for him, and it was a permanent place. And now that place also included his two sons. “I hold you all in my heart, I always have since I have known you, and I always will. I felt this way since the moment we met, and it’s always been there, and it will always be there, so nothing will change.”

His jaw was actually dropped when I was silent. His eyes were wide and his gaze was upward at nothing. Then he started to smile in slow-motion (just like in a Hallmark movie!), and he said, “That is the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you.”

Of course nothing came of it then, otherwise he wouldn’t be called Unrequited, right? But for all you devoted Bunky fans out there, waiting for the best happy-romance-movie-ending ever, Unrequited and I spoke yesterday and he said he’s coming to visit me in New York.

I can hear at least one of you grumbling (WriterHero), but dude, let a girl have some poetry now and then. I’ll see Unrequited in two weeks anyway, when I get my hair done in Utah. But then he’s coming here. For me. FOR ME. And the quaint village of New York City.

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