I lost myself the other day. I can’t find her. The self I mean. Where did she go? Self, Self, come back. Did you go because I was blind to you, the real you? Because I was off in some foreign place looking for meaning after my friend died, a force that broke my heart? Come back self, come back. I’ll give you time, my smile, Come back. Speak.
This early dawn, I race my bike along the river walk, glad my aging legs can travel eleven miles an hour. The river quickly captures my heart. I feel her presence, her moods, her quiet murmuring nourishing my hope of finding myself again.
I sail past every ripple and out beyond, I see white patches of sailboats, calm, serene, moving toward some star. Self? Are you out there? A pelican glides above the river’s radiant surface. The whole site is wonderful, a vast body of life to every flashing animal underneath, every hyacinth on top, every moving sunbeam.
The wind whips around me. I sniff happiness from fisher folk who sit at the grasses’ edge, holding hard their fishing poles for a St. John’s dinner. I love how their strong black fingers tighten around their long poles digging below river’s surfaces. Wide brimmed hats turn, eyes smile, notice me and wave. I’m a part of these folks. God, knows, they are a part of me.
I bring my reading to the monthly writer’s group. Butterflies never cease to accompany my readings. I worry! Will they listen to what I say, really listen? I want them to like me. I want to spill something of my soul to them.
But Jim believes I get mired in too much seriousness, prone to shout out what’s wrong with the world. Too much shouting about suffering?
But damn it, what good am I if I don’t attend to the weeping around me? If I miss the you in the you that is poorly dressed, the you that is like me. What good am I if I fail to honor the hungry, the green Ford that broke down by the river walk?
Soren Kierkegaard’s line rings in my head: “What the age needs is not a genius but a martyr.”
Okay, okay I’m still a Catholic.
I like my writer’s group. I wish I saw them more. They smile when I breeze in, ask questions like, “how ya’ doing?” I smile, say something silly. But open my heart in a quick second? Tell them how I’m really doing? That I can’t find my self right now, my real self? Tell them how I weep for the loss of my long-time soul mate, about other friends that have moved away, leaving me empty inside. Tell them that I am hardening to life, growing tired of the darkness?
When I was a young nun, everything focused bright. Sure, I wore heavy black serge, topped with a weighty white cap. But honestly, my classes nourished my soul. Life was easy. I had religious rules and I followed them. Rules governed my classes also, but there was much fun and spirited learning. We sang Gilenau’s Psalm 8 for prayer: “How Great is your Name O lord Our God!” We sang as if God were leading the sing-a-long, perfectly in tune.
We played classroom exercise games, practiced and performed Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado in shiny Japanese costumes for the entire parish. My little yum yum, Elizabeth, writes me fifty years later about her new title as Delray’s Superintendent of Schools. Oh, I need those kid’s love now, to hear their shouting: “Sister, he pushed me.” Or not knowing how to answer brainy Rochina’s Colandro’s furious challenge: “Sister, what does adultery mean?”
In my office, I click these forlorn thoughts and stare at my framed antique Mother Mary, whose eyes reflect the sweetest of mothers. She hangs beside the arched orange and black Abbey du Thoranet, a French monastery. They are a pair, mother and monks. I pause to take in the moment. It feels like I’m being religious.
As for my self, well, maybe she’s on her way. Last night, I finished rereading Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings classic, The Yearling. The final chapter completely pierced my soul. I broke down. I found oneness with the pioneering sorrow, the growth, the change that happened to son, Jody,
A not so simple tale of loss. Jody’s beloved fawn, Flag, grown now to adulthood, continued to pinch away the seedlings of their meager corn crop. Nothing could stop him, so Penny, the best of fathers, directed: “Jody, take your gun out and shoot him.”
I felt Jody’s horror, his adolescent feelings turning to hate, his refusal to do such a thing. Life without Flag wasn’t possible. But he obediently shoots the animal, and stricken by total alienation, runs away, far into the dark Florida woods, hungry, sleeping under live oaks, uncaring of the forest danger. After three days, starvation finds him longing for the father who always knew what to do to make things right.
He returns, finds his aching bent father sitting alone hunched before a fire. Penny weeps at seeing his lost son. Looking up closely, Penny sees a son that’s different now, grown, a new self. Suffering had born him as man.
Penny speaks, not only to Jody but to me: I read them aloud again and again:
I’m goin’ to talk to you, man to man. You figgered I went back on you. Now there’s a thing ever’ man has got to know. Mebbe you know it a’ready. ‘Twa’n’t only me. ‘Twa’n’t only your yearlin’ deer havin to be destroyed. Boy, life goes back on you.”
…You’ve seed how things goes in the world o’ men. You’ve knowed men to be low-down and mean. You’ve seed ol’ Death at his tricks. You’ve messed around with ol’ Starvation. Ever’ man wants life to be a fine thing, and a easy. ‘Tis fine, boy, powerful fine, but ‘tain’t easy. Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down agin. I’ve been uneasy all my life.
… I wanted to spare you, long as I could. I wanted you to frolic with your yearlin’. I knowed the lonesomeness he eased for you. But ever’ man’s lonesome. What’s he to do then? What’s he to do when he gits knocked down? Why, take it for his share and go on.”
I put the book’s pages down, feeling a new and strange sense of sorrow. Somehow, I was swept back to that young nun that was once me, no longer a nun and definitely no longer young, but now, in her long lifetime, has had to face losses, and recently, that of her beloved friend.
Perhaps, when we go looking for the lost self as I had done, maybe we find it in segments, in unsuspected places, in the moving flow of a giant river, in the heartfelt stories of a good book or in a simple wave from a black woman fishing for her supper.
More than any biblical narrative, Marjorie’s words pierced deep my unknown places, pushing forth so many more tears, granting me discovery of a new self that perhaps can move forward.