A dog yips and yaps from next door. Why? A human types and taps the keys. Why? Why are the leaves turning color before I am ready? Why don’t they follow my own timetable? I am not ready for the summer to end. I was not ready for it to begin.
One night soon, my small world of woods will go silent. The crickets will suddenly stop their songs, and so will the birds. Even the wind will absent itself for the night. A real chill will fill the air for the first time in months. I will want to go outside and run for ten or more miles, or crawl under the covers in my bed and stay there for ten or more hours. Anything I can do to escape the chill, to fight against the continual recognition of my lonely mortality.
To every feeling and every action there is a season, and I know I am stuck because in every season I hurt in the same ways and do the same things to try and alleviate my pain: this same chill that keeps me frozen in time, burning for eternity; this same tightness in my heart that starts the moment I wake each morning, and my futile attempts to distract myself from the raw awareness of my diminished capacity to love; this same gaping wound that keeps me scraping open again and again these ancient scabs. If only there were some clearly visible marker to show to the world, some irrefutable cause of my hurt, so no one would need to ask why I was in pain, because everyone could see it. It would be impossible to hide. Here is my wound, I’d say, untying the layered bandage so they could see, and look how deep it goes. Look, I’d say again after many years, look how my wound has refused to heal.
See how deep it still goes and understand why I can’t move on, for the wound has infected my whole body, the body that houses the soul. If the house is on fire, how can the one trapped inside ignore his burns? The whole body is sick, and no physician has yet been found who can heal it.
Physician, someone once said, heal thyself. There is a long line to enter the gates of the true physician, gates that swing inward rather than outward, and I do not have the patience to wait in line, so I turn away and head out. I will heal myself, I say. Why should I need to enter the gates that swing inward to see the true physician? Who is the true physician? What is Truth? I am innocent; I wash my hands of his blood. But something unclean has entered me, and I am like a blind and deaf tracker with no sense of smell, unable to follow its trail to catch it and make it clean. O Lord, create in me a clean heart…What God hath cleansed, let no man call unclean. Let no man lean over the abyss without a man behind him to catch him if he leans too far. Let no man hear the soft hush of the wind and run for his life in the opposite direction. To run for your life is to run away from Life, to deafen your ears to its clear, unwavering call. The call that says, ‘stop running, come back to me, return to yourself. There is nothing between us but your fear that there will always be something between us.’
There is nothing between my skin and the wind. Shirtless, I feel the late summer breeze moving through the light hairs on my arms, and the darker hairs on my stomach. It is still September as I write this. The wind is colder than it was yesterday; it will be colder tomorrow than it is today. There is nothing between my skin and the wind and the world except for my mind that tells me I am separate, out of contact; my mind that reminds me I am completely alone and should feel very bad about being so. But everyone is permitted to have a different experience every now and then, and this afternoon I do not pay too much attention to these thoughts. They are so familiar; the feelings they produce—hopelessness, emptiness, loneliness, sadness—feel so much like myself. But I am more than my predictable reactions to the thoughts that impress upon me how disconnected I have always been, how unimpressive I am now, and how unfulfilled I will continue to be until the day I die.
Sometimes I wouldn’t mind being somebody else. Somebody with an easy-going confidence, a carefree vitality, and a naturally expansive disposition, who goes out to meet his fellows and the world with warmth and goodwill.
There is no such thing as a pure introvert, Jung said. Such a person would be in the insane asylum. No argument here. I am a kind of architect of dysfunction, working overtime to construct my own insane asylum. A refuge for my fugue-like states, a sanctuary for my fill-in-the-blank neuroses. Please let me be here, at least until I understand why I can’t just let myself be, why I am always interfering with my soul’s natural course. Let me travel the perilous seas of my longing until I reach that golden shore where my solitude meets yours, and my feeling of being stranded at sea all my life is first understood and then transforms into an experience of landing, dropping the anchor, and resolving to stay awhile on the unfamiliar terrain of shored belonging.
My soul needs this asylum in order to be restored to sanity, but my ego, the pirate captain of this aimless ship, gets in its way. The latter wants protection, too. But what to the soul is a precious dwelling-place where it can regain contact with itself, to the ego is a brick wall behind which it can hide, keeping itself safe from contact with anyone or anything else that might call into question whether there is anything of substance here. Is there anything of substance here? Is there anything but a certain stance, and a need to express that stance, so as to defend its legitimacy?
It’s a legitimate question. I don’t know the answer. I don’t know why I have abandoned the blank page for so long. I am uncertain of how to come back to it, so I’m writing with my uncertainty, keeping it company with my pen. I don’t want to hold my fluid unknowing or my intuitive knowing or anything else within me, known or unknown, at a distance. I want to hold everything inside myself like I would hold the pen, if I were writing in a notebook and not typing on a computer. How would I hold it? I would hold the pen as if it were both sides of a railing on a narrow rickety bridge that spans across a canyon rim, my only support to keep from falling to my death in the river far below. I would hold the pen as if it were a wedge, to keep some secret door from closing completely, allow just enough space for my foot to open the door another crack when I am ready.
I want these words to dance with light feet, to juke quickly when I try to tackle them to the ground, to run away from me, teasing me as I try to catch them. Though I may be on the road to serious illusion, I want these words to keep their sense of humor. I don’t want to fill them with my own heaviness; they deserve a lighter touch. They have the right to live on their own merit, free of my confused interference. No referee is needed here. These letters play by their own rules. While I sink in stagnant waters, struggling to get my own way, to be my own sun, I want these words to swim in living waters, to float on their backs as the only sun on this planet smiles down on them.