Thursday, December 17, 2015

A common thread

I spent all of Sunday afternoon in my car, mostly in silence, save the occasional comment from my dad about traffic, or the weather, or how cute my sisters’ one-year-old twins looked at their birthday party the day before. My mom sat in the back doing Sudoku or looking at her iPad, editing pictures of said twins. It was a good weekend away, and I dreaded going home.

I couldn’t place why, exactly, except for the contrast between my certain place in the family I had spent the last few days with and the fogginess of my present life and future. The past has this settledness to it, a grounding quality that holds us to the earth, like spiritual gravity of a sort. Even when people you’ve known your whole life hurt your feelings or make you want to pull out your hair, they’re still yours somehow. They are simply not going anywhere, or at least our ties to them aren’t. I struggle to put this feeling to words, but I am thinking of the word home and all that comes with it: comfort and nostalgia, and also grief, intractability.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I heard these words from T. S. Eliot for the first time in a college class, 10 years ago now. I continue to think of them often; you might say they roam around my mind, a kind of exploration in themselves. They bring up so many questions, doubts: How long does this exploring go on? Can we know that place, the place that started us, in the midst of our exploration, or only at the end? Are we going in the right direction? Is there a right direction?

People wander. I like to think if we have a purpose in our wandering, something to aim for, it means more. If all of it–every time we laugh, cry, scream, love, touch, hurt–has a single thread running through it, a thread that wraps around us and back to our beginning, that must mean something, right?
I want to spin that thread, to control it, and to have a sense that things are happening as they should. But the older I get, the more uncertain I become. Am I doing the right things in the right place with the right people? I am too unsure, too prone to mistakes and deliberate waywardness, to control or often even see the thread that ties my life together.

I am reminded here of the words of a hymn (and amazed at how often this happens):

You bring my wand’ring spirit back.
when I forsake your ways;
you lead me, for your mercy’s sake,
in paths of truth and grace.


Your sure provisions gracious God
attend me all my days;
oh, may your house be my abode,
and all my work be praise.
Here would I find a settled rest,
while others go and come;
no more a stranger, nor a guest,
but like a child at home.


Perhaps it turns out that we do not, cannot lead ourselves. We may follow a thread and even twist it, but it is spun for us.

This thought does not comfort me, but it does give me hope. It does not make the fog before me dissipate or the questions disappear, but it does provide a sense of connection between the beginning and the end. We will always be pulled back from the brink. We will again become like a child at home. In the meantime, we wander, hoping we do not become too lost before we are found again, and again, and again.

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