Closer to Fine
Carnival rides make me extremely nervous. I cannot be convinced they are safe, what with being taken apart, moved, and put back together again time after time after time. I swore I would never let my children ride them, and I kept that vow for quite awhile. However, as so many vows and resolutions in parenting go, I relented after years of begging and whining and accusations of overprotectiveness. To demonstrate just how far away we are from my original ban, one of those pairs of feet in the photo above belongs to my oldest daughter. I watched from the ground as she and my sister flipped over again and again, high overhead with nothing but metal and asphalt below them. I hid behind my camera, trying to detach from my panic enough to see the art in the moment. We won't even talk about my ride on the Ferris Wheel. I think my sister has video of my freak out, and I can only hope she decides to be merciful and delete it.
Yesterday morning I sat in church and participated in the special reading of the gospel for Palm Sunday: parishioners take the parts of narrator, Jesus, and other characters and read their lines with intermittent responses from the congregation playing "the crowd." We were the ones demanding that Pilate crucify Jesus, mocking and taunting a suffering man who had been nothing but merciful and kind, providing a demonstration of the fickle and painful-to-watch side of human nature I try to deny in myself, even as I know it lives and breathes alongside my better qualities. It always hurts me to say those words out loud, to know how everyone--the crowd down to his closest friends--failed Jesus at the crucial moment. I sit and wrestle with the guilt of it every year, knowing that I am neither better nor wiser than the people whose part I just read.
This year, no one stood up to give a sermon after the reading; instead, music from a cello started drifting down from the choir loft in the back. At first I thought it was an interlude of sorts; the church I go to has such unbelievable music that a gorgeous cello solo could simply be a segue from one part of the ritual to the next. I picked up my bulletin and started to read for a few seconds, until I registered this was something quite different. You could hear a pin drop and there was a stillness in the pews that doesn't happen during transitional moments. I put down my bulletin and focused on the music, and then I also grew still and actively silent so that I could listen.
I know next to nothing about classical music, so I have no idea what the cellist played. All I know is that the music cut through to the space in my heart where joy and pain take turns leading the dance. There were highs and lows and moments that felt like spinning around in a circle, and when the last note faded away, I sat with my eyes closed for as long as I could to let it all sink in. When I opened them, I saw the priest signal for everyone to stand up and continue with the liturgy, and so we went on.
I thought all day about the contrast between the cello and the carnival rides, two radically different metaphors for what it is to be human. Pretty much all of my life has been the carnival ride variety, with lots of whipping around and upside down and trying to keep it together and not pass out and embarrass myself. The specific framework of the roller coaster I was constrained to ride would be dismantled in one place and almost immediately constructed again somewhere else, and it took every last ounce of energy I could muster to hang on. I continued to hang on because I didn't know there was any other way; I assumed everyone was on their own version of the carnival ride, getting whiplash right along with me.
The last few years have been straight-up awful. The death throes of a volatile marriage and 20+ year relationship; a constant state of triage to bind up the most wounded among my children on any given day; job changes; saying goodbye to beloved friends; moving across the country; renegotiating life on terms I would never have chosen in a million years. Wise friends and family, several therapists, and kind and thoughtful priests told me to hold on, keep going, that there was new life waiting on the other side if I could slog through the morass. I wanted so badly to believe them, but I felt trapped on the carnival ride, freaking out and hyperventilating and begging for it to just STOP already.
But along the way in the past few months, I finally stepped off the carnival ride and onto solid ground. For the first time maybe ever, I can experience the highs and lows of life as an achingly beautiful cello piece--moved by beauty in both joy and pain but not allowing myself to be dragged along, kicking and screaming, on an unwanted ride. Learning how to meditate helped me get there. Time on a heart monitor in the hospital helped, too. Talking late into the night on friends' sofas helped even more. There are a handful of midwives who ushered me into this new way of being, and I am thankful for their steady, skillful hands.
Carnival rides are flashy and attention-grabbing, and they can be exhilarating. Plenty of people choose the carnival ride, and if they can handle it, more power to them. But for my part, I want the quiet cello solo and the priest gently beckoning me on, past my failures and fickleness, into deeper communion and fullness of life. That life is there if I choose it, and I'm amazed to find myself healthy enough to make that choice again and again and again.
I am living proof that wonders never cease.
(Title of this post inspired by the Indigo Girls: https://youtu.be/HUgwM1Ky228)
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.