A Gathering

This is not what I planned to write this week. I planned to write it sometime in the very safe future when everything was prepared and under control. You know that future, the one where hot fudge sundaes are good for you and lemon drops grow on trees.

When I went to my Living School intensive in Albuquerque in June, I learned, among other things, that my writing can be a help in the world. This is probably not a news flash to anyone except me. I know and am grateful that some people find this blog useful, but I never thought of it as service, not like working in a soup kitchen or a prison.

So I decided to gather some of these posts into a book and put it out into the world in some as yet undecided format. I need to give a shout out to Delores, who has been telling me to do this for years and without whose encouragement I might never have considered it, and Bardwell, who suggested it more recently.

It’s interestingly terrifying to tell you I plan to write this book for two reasons: First, you might ask how it’s going at a time when it’s not going at all. Second, there is something revelatory—that is, self-revealing—about claiming to be the one who best knows my form of service in the world and that I know it’s this deep part of me. As David Whyte says in his poem “Revelation Must Be Terrible,”

…revelation must be terrible
knowing you can
never hide your voice again.

A teacher of mine once said that completely different intentions can look the same externally. I used to write to prove myself. Now I’m beginning to see that I can choose to write to be myself, and being our true selves—not our small, accomplishment-driven selves—is not only all that’s asked of us but also all that’s needed.

I would love to have your help in the collection process. If there’s a post you particularly like or a topic you think is important to include, leave a comment or email me at rachelrhenry@gmail.com. There’s a schnazzy new search box in the upper right to help with this endeavor.

Thank you for reading, for your support over the years, for knowing me better than I know myself, and for any suggestions you may have.

Thank You

When I logged on last night, WordPress informed me that on that very date four years ago I started writing these reflections every week-ish. This is the kind of fact I wouldn’t have believed if a computer didn’t say it because four years is a long time.

Or it used to be. College was four years, and college lasted a long time, as I recall. As previously noted, this whole age thing alters either the space-time continuum or our perception of it. I know the latter is more likely, but I’m not ruling out the former.

Another reason it doesn’t feel as if it’s been a long time is you. Every time I wanted to spend the evening streaming an entire season of Arrested Development or scrolling through Facebook, I remembered that, miraculously, there are people on the other end of the ether who find this blog helpful.

Knowing that is humbling, in the truest sense of the word, that is, it reminds me that what happens here doesn’t so much come from me as through me but that I need to keep showing up. It keeps me honest, which means you keep me honest. You move me to look inside, beyond complaint, beyond self criticism (OK, usually) to say something I hope is useful. I have to give up my perfectionist streak and hit publish even on the days when I think, this is really not my best one. Almost every time, those posts receive the most likes and comments.

I saw a quote recently that said, “No one can do it for you, and you can’t get there alone.” That is absolutely true of this blog. Thank you.

When I Was Your Age

Seen on a book flap this week: “Hailed as the most prominent lyrical poet of his time, [Dylan Thomas] made four trips to the United States and died in New York in 1953 at the age of 39.”

New Yorker cartoon recounted to me by a friend: An obituary page with captions under the pictures that said, “A little older than you,” “A little younger than you,” and then in the middle “Your age exactly.” Thirty-nine is my age exactly.

 I generally hate hypothetical questions because they pit things against each other needlessly, but this book flap made me wonder whether I’d rather be a really successful writer, as Thomas was a poet, or likely to be alive at 40. I would rather, of course, be both, but unlike choosing between your parents being run over by a mac truck or your sister being eaten by sharks, this decision was easy—I’d rather be alive. Because there’s a lot more to life than writing.

Which I’m not sure I could have said without feeling guilty ten years ago. Not that I didn’t value the other parts of my life, but in my head, I earned my existence through my accomplishments.

I’m more and more certain that existence isn’t available to be earned—it’s a gift. People don’t bring you more gifts on your seventh birthday than your sixth because you learned multiplication in second grade and that’s a bigger accomplishment than addition and subtraction. We can receive or reject gifts but can’t do anything about the giving of them. (OK, you can invite more people to your birthday party, but you can’t control whether they give you the stupid brush and comb set or the cool Batman action figure.)

Entering mid-life reduced the urgency of accomplishment for me. I still sometimes think that just means I’ve failed—a possible explanation but not a good one. A better one may be that aging allows us to recognize the wonder of existence, pay attention to it, and enjoy it.

Stumble Upon

Here is what you can do with a paper thesaurus that you can’t do at thesaurus.com: You look up the word “happening” and somehow work your way around to “existence,” which you discover is the first entry in the thesaurus, a location delightfully fraught with meaning. Along the way you somehow manage to pass by the word “yeshiva.” (Yes, this really happened to me, though I cannot now reconstruct how “yeshiva” got in there.)

I worry sometimes that this running into what we weren’t looking for gets lost online, that when all our content is algorithmically processed to appeal to who we already are, we can no longer stumble across those things that will shape us into who we will become. E-books can’t fall off the shelf at you. Google can’t tell what’s in your soul from your geographic location and the list of Ted talks you’ve downloaded recently.

I think of chance encounters as the universe’s way of trying to get through to us, of circumventing our too-busy minds with well-targeted wake up calls. So I suppose it’s a little egotistic to think that the universe can’t handle this electronic device we’ve invented, as if we’re clever enough to disrupt cosmic communications by snagging them in our World Wide Web.

Here’s how synchronicity might happen online: You Google “couples snuggies,” and one of the links sends you to a scary website that puts a nasty virus on your computer. You take your computer to the computer store, where the person who helps you uses the word “yeshiva,” which happens to be just the word you needed to finish that poem you’ve been stuck on for weeks. (No, this didn’t really happen to me, well not exactly, but don’t Google couples snuggies and don’t ask why I did.)

I will still take the paper thesaurus down from the shelf sometimes just because it’s so much fun to wander around in the relatedness of words, but I’ll also keep in mind that the bigger relatedness out there can use any of the tools at its disposal.

There Is Enough

Here’s something to add to your list of things not to do: spend a week talking about God and art, fly home, go directly to the outlet mall. Not sanity inducing.

I spent last week at the Glen West Workshop in Santa Fe. I feel as if it reversed the spin of my subatomic particles—in a good way.

While searching for what might have shifted my perceptions, I realized that I spent so little time last week wanting things: wanting people to be different from who they are, wanting my life—or at least my income source and the state of my bathroom floor—to be different from what it is, wanting more dessert (OK, so there were eight flavors of self-serve ice cream, two of them chocolate, which was pretty magical).

We talked so little about discontent. We talked about poetry and writing habits and how to construct a play and where we were from and whether the worship service had gotten us to a prayerful place. And when we discussed difficult things, we focused on our experiences and what we might do next rather than assigning blame.

I do not think this happened because we were a gathering of saints who never speak ill of others in our daily lives. I think it happened because the Glen somehow managed to create an environment that says, there is enough: enough time, enough opportunity, enough talent, enough people who care, enough love. An environment that is the opposite of the one I found at the outlet malls.

Granted, it is easier to believe this when someone else is cooking your food and doing the dishes to boot, but I’m convinced that our everyday existence could be filled with so much more enoughness than it tends to be.

I don’t know how yet, but I intend to find out.

A Good Week

There are small mysteries in this world, such as why no one seems capable of producing a generic band-aid that sticks to your skin for more than an hour.

Then there are larger mysteries, such as why right when you are feeling hopeless about the writing business, you win a contest, as I did this week. I won the Peter K. Hixson Memorial Award—$1800 of services from Writer’s Relief, a company that handles submissions for authors. They will submit excerpts of my novel to seventy-five magazines for me for free. That’s a rather fabulous number of magazines, and I am ever so slightly excited. (Check it out—my name appears on someone else’s website!)

The day before this happened, I said to God, “OK, I know I’m supposed to be trusting you, and I can see that when it comes to getting things done and to writing, I’m not. Nothing else is working, though, so I will.” I guess God enjoys a good spectacle now and then—parting the Red Sea, smiting folks, the Transfiguration, and winning writing contests.

I don’t think you need to be someone who talks to God for this kind of thing to happen to you.  Grace—“that blind benevolent side of even the fiercest world”—happens to everyone (“Grace Abounding,” William Stafford). Sometimes it comes when we are at our lowest and have done nothing to invite its presence except perhaps needing it.

But I think oftentimes, trust creates a crack in our doubt, our routine, our self-sufficiency—whatever it is that needs cracking—for grace to sneak in through. Sometimes trust might feel more like letting go or giving up, not resignation, but relaxing our death grip on having to do it ourselves or needing events to resolve in a certain way.

So keep the faith, whatever your faith happens to be, and may we all learn “that floating, that immensity waiting to receive whatever arrives with trust” (“Afterwards,” Stafford again).

Note: I will be at a writing workshop next week, and so the blog will be on vacation. Yes, I realize there is a certain irony in not writing because I’ll be writing.

Entering Triple Digits

This is post 101, which means it’s time to pause for some reader appreciation. Without you, Being Finite would never have reached a milestone worthy of a Disney movie title.

A friend said we’re never so happy as when we’re accomplishing something that’s meaningful to us, even if the something is standing still and enjoying a tree whose leaves are bursting forth after a long winter.

It’s often hard for me to remember this at the beginning, though, whether I’m staring at the blank page or trying to convince myself to roll out of bed to exercise in the morning. Even if I will likely enjoy the activity—or the results of the activity—my mental inertia wins. I feel confident I could place in the top five if anyone ever held a mental inertia contest.

Most of the time, other people help with this. If I’m meeting a friend to run, my odds of actually putting on my shoes increase a hundred fold—if that’s a number odds can increase by.

And many Tuesday nights, I sit down in front of the computer, lock the cat out of the room, and ignore his destruction of the door because by some miracle, you all have been kind enough to let me know that these musings are helpful to you. You’ve given me an astonishing gift.

I know some of you but not others. Some of us are alike, and some of us couldn’t be more different; yet we share enough of being human that a few words about life’s ups and downs can connect us. Miracle indeed. Thank you for reading, for liking, for commenting, for expecting me to show up, and for sticking with me.

This particular entry was finished early Wednesday morning, and a tree full of songbirds greeted me as I opened my laptop. They were surely singing for you.