Tag Archives: long view

Witness

Last week there was an attempted  political assassination in Tucson, Arizona.  This event opened   debate about the tone of public discourse, and whether violent political metaphors contributed to this violent act.

Like most folks, I had my share of things to say about this. Some of the statements I made were thoughtful; others were just part of the feast of avid conjecture.

But I was particularly surprised by the opinion of someone who advised me to stay neutral. She thought I should withhold judgment about whether the violent rhetoric that passes for political speech was responsible for this bloody act. She counseled me to draw no conclusions and to refrain from analysis until all the details about the individual shooter were known.

She asked me to stop making sense of what I see.

But I am old enough to have seen some things. I have lived in this country during other eras of violent rhetoric, and I have lived through its aftermath. I have watched verbal assaults escalate into political  violence before.  I have watched the illusion of comfort and neutrality go up in smoke. I have seen my city burn.

I don’t need a TV news analyst to tell me that there are a thousand reasons why someone might want to kill a member of Congress. I don’t need a police investigation to know there are as many reasons for shooting eighteen people in a Safeway as there are civilians who feel a need to own handguns. I know that a single shot fired by an “unstable” person is no more an individual act than is a riot, and I know that his bullet seeks to kill something greater than the human being within its sights.

So, I am surprised to find my journey toward  awakeness includes discovering things to which I am not open.

I’ve grown comfortable being my own witness, staying open to the claims of others while being deeply rooted in what I have experienced and what I have  seen.

Being a grown-up means believing myself when I’ve seen something happen enough times that I can call it by name.  I am old enough to be the author of my own history.  I am strong enough to have compassion for folks who get uncomfortable at the way the world looks when seen through my eyes without disbelieving myself.  I am learning to take myself seriously as a witness

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The Long View

Living intentionally requires some new skills. One of them is the ability to take the long view.

I used to think this ability was a natural result of maturity. I thought simply living through many experiences would change my perception of what is possible over time, just like the hymn that proclaims “We’ll Understand it Better By and By”. I was certain that  my understanding of what is important would change just  like my eyesight: a slow, imperceptible shift that would one day surprise me with a new-found focus on the long arc instead of the urgency at hand.

Instead, I’m learning  that this existential hyperopia is a matter of choice, not a fact of longevity.  After all, there is plenty of evidence around me of fully grown folks who have  little capacity to see beyond fufilling their most  immediate desires. (I am unsure when this became a qualification for celebrity or public office.)

Today is a good day to choose to take the long view. It is the first day winter and the beginning  of a new year, at least as far as my part of the planet is concerned.  I think of the time from winter solstice to vernal equinox as The Season of Faith: a long, dark season when I must trust that things are being slowly warmed and prepared to grow, even when there is no evidence of it that I can see.

I used to hate winter, with its seeming endless weeks of gloom and bone-deep cold. My first glimpse of ice split open by the slow, invisible thaw seemed like a spring miracle each year. But in the long gaze of earth time, this season is a just blink.

So, I cultivate the long view by watching my window for signs. I work and read and sew by day. By night, abundant night, I cook and dream.  I watch songbirds huddle in the sumacs, and know it won’t be long until I hear the surprise of maples dripping their sweetness into steel buckets. Even while mired in my winter funk, I trust that some change is coming because it always does, and I must be prepared. Like the stream beyond my window, I feel frozen. But the long view tells me that I must  be ready to be broken open, too.

Body of Life

And it is always, eventually, about the body.

Although I try to avoid it, this business of growing older is inevitably about facing my diminishing corporeal capacities. This shapely body has grown merely sturdy; the long lovely architecture of bone becomes buried deeper each year beneath hard-earned muscle and the luscious endurance of fat.

I’ve grown used to the small indignities, like frequently needing reading glasses yet losing them often. Fortunately, I have not had to face this ignominy alone. Friends laugh in familiar recognition at my dilemma, and hand me their readers to see the memo or the menu.  Together, we have become people whose vision is better suited to the long view. We don’t need to remember everything, only what we cannot borrow or lend.

But privately , I’ve been forced to notice a deeper falling down, the kind we don’t share over a   casual lunch.  I live in this body like an old house. Its inner contours are well furnished and      familiar, but the siding is constantly in need of a paint job and routine maintenance and repair.  Of late, the girders and joists have begun to groan, reminding me that no house stands forever. My doctor swears I’ve lost a half-inch in height. And my knees demand professional attention.

So I’ll be away this week, attending to the needs of this body. I’ll be spending quality time with my orthopedic surgeon, and reflecting on the kind of  growth that only shows up on the inside.

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