What Else Could This Be?
My heart resists pronouncements
Someone recently got me thinking about what it means to find comfort in ordinary life amidst so much grief and heaviness. I noticed a mixture of ambivalence and curiosity around the idea of taking comfort, so I thought I’d do some rambling about it.
Right away, I thought of the Jewish Studio Project and some of the questions and principles we are learning and beginning to explore for ourselves.
One is, What else could this be?
It could be wisdom. It could be that there is room amid the heaviness and dislocation for everyday comforts.
It could be kindness. It could be: take care of your heart and your body and your mind by turning towards the landing places available to you.
It could be compassion. It could be: I see you. Come up for air.
Turning the words over and around. Taking my time with them.
What else could this be?
It could be that we ate heaping bowls of microwave popcorn for dinner last night, then sat close together on the couch watching Call the Midwife, losing ourselves for an hour in a different world, a different time, and the timelessness of birth, mercy, hardship, humor, and care.
It could be stepping out into the dawn, barely light out, and seeing the silhouettes of trees.
It could be that hot coffee awaited me, and the way these routines hold me in place – select a mug, open a packet of Splenda, pour the coffee, pour the half and half, spoon, watch the coffee lighten to a rich, creamy color, stir. The sound of the spoon against ceramic. The clink of the spoon in the sink. This slowing down.
It could be receiving a text from a friend who asked, "Time to chat today?" And how seeing her on FaceTime brought such immediate comfort.
It could be simply remembering that none of us carries the world alone. Not even God. We read a passage yesterday from Proverbs. It was written in the voice of Wisdom itself – chochma in Hebrew.
Wisdom describes itself as having been there even before creation. Before the before.
Wisdom describes itself as God's confidant. As the one who delights in God's creations. One of my thoughts was that even God didn't create alone. We all need witnesses. We all need companions and confidants. We all need that which delights in us.
I admit it is difficult for me to relate to delight right now. I feel some weird shame around this, which is probably just the part of me that tries to do everything right. There is no way to do any of this right, though, which of course is to say, no way to do any of it wrong either. Or is there?
And so I took out the watercolors for the first time and felt ridiculously brave in this small act of encountering a new medium. For a few minutes, I found comfort in the vertical strokes of a small brush, in the blues and purples.
Another principle of the process I'm learning is a familiar one to me: Notice everything.
And so I noticed so much sadness and longing arising, and I noticed my judgment of my judgment, and I noticed how Wisdom was there, too, saying, there's room for all of this, keep going, and I noticed the relief of doing one small thing, and I noticed the desire to do one small thing forever, and I noticed the thing I do of feeling like I need to hold all of the things at once, and I noticed the possibility of asking, what else could this be?
This could be a reminder to not hold all the things at once.
This could be a broken heart.
This could be love.
This could be fear.
This could be not having to analyze or make sense of or articulate.
This could be the day you move the plants from the sunroom and find new homes for them.
This could be a prayer.
This could be run a bath, take a nap, take a walk, get to work.
This could be the way a stranger’s face can immediately feel like a kindness and they don’t even know it.
Start close in. These words come to me, as they often do.
After I take Chupie out and give her breakfast, my little coffee ritual. Then I begin the day with the Mini Crossword, followed by Wordle, followed by Connections. I send these to my kids and my sisters. I text the Connections one only to my spouse. These are little details no one cares about but I am writing them here anyway, as they are the daily machinations that hold my day in lest I fly out into ten thousand directions of chaos. I read some news. I look at Facebook and Instagram.
How it feels to see Israeli flags. How it feels to see Palestinian flags.
How the light has come up by now, and then my mind goes back to the creation story, followed by a video by a rabbi talking about how we have failed God. Failed in our mission to be good stewards here. Well, fuck.
The dog snores, after a long head scratch. I hear the door in the hallway, my spouse is up. I think about my kids.
We make a lot of assumptions about each other. We make assumptions about each other’s days, about each other’s hearts. How could we not? We have so little to go on.
I have had people tell me they imagine me to be this totally prayerful, peaceful, calm, contemplative bastion of peace and nurturing. So often, I feel like anything but this – stressed, anxious, over-extended, self-critical, selfish, scattered, distracted, striving, uncertain.
So much of what I write and share is probably my attempt to live into the practices that have carried me for decades now, even as they evolve. Honestly, it can get to be too much “self” focus sometimes, and when I begin to sense this, it’s often a good signal to pause and look out the window, look at the person in the room with me, and stop trying to achieve some consummate balance, stop trying to get everything right.
I feel like I need to make some perfect pronouncement about “where I stand.” But no such pronouncement comes easily. My heart resists pronouncements. My mind seizes up.
This, too, is something.
I am still having some weird post-Covid things and just haven’t felt all the way like myself.
Two nights ago, I dreamed about being on a big ship with my family. It had made its way towards very deep waters which were known to be dangerous for survival.
Last night, I dreamt about a new baby (influenced by watching Call the Midwife, no doubt). The baby belonged to a spiritual leader I follow and respect, and it was in my charge for a time. This felt like a special and serious responsibility, but I needed to seek out help remembering how to secure a car seat.
What else could this be?
We are in dangerous waters.
We must care for our babies.
I feel unequipped.
We need each other’s help.
My body is still recovering.
There is some fear there.
And the comforts of ordinary life: The sound of the spoon as my spouse stirs their morning tea. The dog gets up to investigate. The washing machine starts up. A little bird hops from branch to branch. Permission to be in the mess of it all. And really, what a privilege this all is even in its excruciating challenges.
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