Saturday, February 7, 2009
It was a precarious time. Tenth grade. We were in our second house in Phoenix, and our final house as a family. I was making my way through high school in a dark blue trench coat and very tight Levi's (yes, there was a pre-lycra day). I thought I was very fat with a 27" waist. Many of the girls had 21 and 22" waists. You could tell because Levi's always stamped your waist size right on the back of the jeans on the little canvas-colored tag. A 21" waist and a 34" inseam was ideal. Alas.
We were in a bizarre place. Phoenix. I was still looking for a neighborhood. I was still looking for friends to walk to school with or walk home from. I was looking for trees. When I got my driver's license, my friend J and I drove up to Prescott for the day to see trees. It's possible Phoenix could have worked for me if it had been lush with trees. If huge eucalyptus branches hung over buildings. If oak trees that had seen the Civil War lined the streets. If autumn brought not a dip below 100 degrees, but a wash of colored leaves instead. But that is not Phoenix.
Another friend, C, got it. She was a woman of horses and lived off of Bell Road in the middle of nowhere which is now Arrowhead Mall - one of the most congested areas of Phoenix. I talked to her about the trees and she understood. I read books on druids and fairies and nature-based religions. I read The Autobiography of a Yogi. I read about astral-travel and Hinduism, and I knew that not only had I left North Carolina and the path that life would have taken me, but I knew I had left the Christian path that had been laid out for me. There was too much else out there to think about. There were too many other ways of viewing the world that all seemed to have the same center with different accessories and rituals. Someone may want to paint their living room mauve and green and someone else may want a pure white room, but it's the same room. The paint is the accessory. The space is neutral. That space is God, to me. That's Tao.
I learned at 15 that I really can't group. I can't join. I can't do community in the way that so many people seem to thrive in. I can't say, yes my way is right and your way is wrong, and I certainly can't say I know the first thing about the nature of God or Goddess, except that because I do understand the shortcomings of language, and I understand that language is only a label -- a symbol -- of the thing it is describing, not the thing itself -- I understand that all the names of God are only symbols of something we may feel but can't yet articulate.
There's no shame in having no language. The shame comes when the language becomes the thing -- the way, the truth and the light, so to speak. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Interesting grammar. If the Word was with God and was God, then the Word being discussed in the book of John is not the dualistic language we work with here on earth. It's a way of communicating in which that which describes the experience is the experience. We aren't there yet on this planet. Saying the word "shower" doesn't give you the feeling and experience of taking a shower. But maybe we can get there one day. Maybe that's where we're heading as our consciousnesses evolve. If we do get there, we'll truly be walking in the words of Rumi:
There is a field beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing.
I'll meet you there.
Tenth grade. I missed trees. Eleventh grade. I missed trees. Twelfth grade I missed trees. Still, today, I miss trees. I told my parents at the dinner table in the tenth grade, "I used to be a tree." They were worried. I held a tiny gold pine cone charm in my hand. I wore it around my neck for years. I missed my earth.
In eighth grade, I was forced into a confirmation ceremony at our church that I did not believe in. I told my parents they could make me go and say the words but I didn't believe them. The house rule was I had to get confirmed and then I could decide about church. I've never looked back on the door I closed to that church. And, I still don't believe those words I was forced to say in 1981, and I still feel no compelling need to join a group of any faith. Something about joining anything gives me the creeps. I tried to join groups in college -- the National Organization of Women, the ACLU, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Amnesty International -- but I never got beyond one meeting. I just loathe groups.
I do, however, love individuals. A lot. I like meeting people underneath their faiths and beliefs and labels. I try (sometimes with more success than others) to see underneath the labels the person has given themselves and find the actual person. I try to do this in my classrooms. I try to find where we're connected rather than where we're separated.
I was a tree. I may be a tree again. When I die, I want the cheapest pine box. I want to be underneath a big tree with roots that stretch for miles, and I want my flesh to be food for that tree. And when that tree dies, it will become food for other creatures. And so it goes. Everything connected and dependent on everything else.
"I am large! I contain multitudes!" proclaims Walt Whitman.
Indeed. Let's start there.