Two poems keep going through my mind.
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
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’m living in a place that’s much like where I grew up, where my family came from. And they were places I wanted, and felt I needed, to escape from when I was young; Auden’s raw towns: Sacramento, then the ranch during my teens when I felt terminally isolated and anomalous, Fairfield, Eugene, Davis. Then Berkeley, where I started to hit my stride; away from the family template, finally in a place where people looked and thought like I did, where I could become myself, not feel pressure to conform to ways of thinking and being that didn’t fit me.
So after years in Berkeley, San Francisco, back to Berkeley, and now over 8 years in Australia. I pace myself differently. Maybe now - to paraphrase Thoreau - the distant drummer I heard so many years has moved into my heartbeat, and what I needed to get to, to guard, has become the background music that I hear when I see this good world. Perhaps, in all my meandering, I met and made peace with who I was, so can return to where I started, the dry valleys, small towns with people who look much like the people I grew up with, places that formed me, and know them for the first time.
Two more quotes: first, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” then Merton writes something to the effect that an enlightened person is just an ordinary person who has nowhere else they have to go. I am not claiming satori, just saying that there’s a sweet and full freedom when the noisier heroics have quieted and there is simply the sound of cicada at the end of a warm spring day with good work and good people.
This week I joined the Beechworth Chorus and, walking home after the first rehearsal, I remember joining my first choir, Grace Church Fairfield, when I was 21, 42 years ago. I had such a hard time following the music then, leaning to sing in community: with all the voices in my head singing in disharmony and telling me I was both better and worse than anyone in the room. Now I am just another voice in the chorus. I have weaknesses and strengths, abilities and disabilities; and singing in community is the venue where all that can be both set free and redeemed in simply joining in the ongoing music we make in all our living and dying.
21 years ago when I did CPE, I came up with a four-sided picture of where and how I needed to balance with life; competence, passion, prayer and personality. Maybe in the last two decades these four have become one focus, one method of meeting life on life’s terms, in life’s good time.
In any case, I have much to be thankful for.