"Celebration when you're calling the shots? Easy. Celebration when your plan is working? Anyone can do that. But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that's when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that's celebration.
When you can invest yourself deeply and unremittingly in the life that surrounds you instead of declaring yourself out of the game once and for all, because what's happened to you is too bad, too deep, too ugly for anyone to expect you to move on from, that's the good, rich place. That's the place where the things that looked for all intents and purposes like curses start to stand up and shimmer and dance, and you realize with a gasp that they may have been blessings all along. Or maybe not. Maybe they were curses, in fact, but the force of your belief and your hope and your desperate love for life as it actually unfolding, has brought a blessing from a curse, like water from a stone, like life from a tomb, like the actual story of God over and over." (Another excerpt from "Cold Tangerines" from the chapter called "Blessings and Curses.")
Sometimes it takes a day, or a year, or maybe even ten years to recognize a curse as a hard won blessing. And if find yourself still on the left side of that bell curve, struggling to believe something like the above could be true, then it might help to grab the coattails of someone who's walked out of darkness ahead of you and hold on for dear life. Throughout my life, from earliest childhood, I've clung to the words of strangers I've found in the pages of myriad books for solace, inspiration and enlightenment. Things I've read have challenged my assumptions, spurred action and wrought untold changes of heart. I've found kindred spirits scattered across centuries and continents and therein drawn courage, conviction and the occasional belly laugh. Words on pages have saved me, time and again.
Whatever circumstances a writer chooses to narrate can be cast in an infinite number of ways, on a continuum of hopeless tragedy on one end to triumphing epic on the other, depending on what they choose to believe about their own story. Anyone can look back over their life and count the failures, losses, betrayals and heartbreaks we all inevitably endure as proof their lives are out of control, meaningless and ridiculous and thereby justify a life of despair, blame and regret. Others, usually after a sufficient amount of time has bestowed the gift of perspective, can interpret those very difficult and sometimes unbearable experiences as part of, and even necessary to, the larger arc of the narrative which is creating the unique individual with whom they gift the world.
Last night at my book club, our planned Lenten discussion of Rosemary Mahoney's "The Singular Pilgrim: Walks on Sacred Ground," in which she recounts her travels to ancient pilgrimage sites in service to her own yearnings, digressed to each of us recounting our own spiritual journey, thus far, to the other women around the table. I realized, depending on how I told the story of my life, I could sound like a fruitcake or heroic quester. Fruitcake on one end, hero on the other. On any given day I can slide the weight toward one or the other, depending on how I choose to perceive and portray events. And this is how all of us, even those who will never pick up a pen, are writers, casting the story of our lives according to what we choose to believe about them. Whether we ever travel to an actual pilgrimage site or not, we are all pilgrims, with no choice but to walk on and into the bright and bewildering adventure which is our own life.
Our long suffered winter is beginning to recede, slow as a developing Polaroid, and people emerge blinking from their houses to rake leaves, tidy hedges and clean windows in the sudden surprise of sun. Riffs of birdsong has tickled the air these last few mornings and vees of birds sweep across the sky--their flight another departure and return. Which this leg of their journey? Depends on where you are standing when you look up.