Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Waiting For Dawn


the triumphal arches   they're crumbling away
lost outpost off the map of the known world
heart full of shadows    heart full of shadows

who walks beside you now of all who began
just a few   a ragtag band as spellbound as you

and what were you searching for          what
absolution perhaps
                            a kiss set in dazzling crystal
the elixir distilled from thunder and moonshine

but we forgot the implacable fury of chainsaws

that abyss inside our fear was still undreamt of
and who could foretell such complete betrayals
who could say    I bargained for this    even this

hope    so frail     riddled by a great black wind
battered bird       shred of life     desperate cry

will we ever see dawn light etching the horizon


And yet there is one great thing,
the only thing--
to live to see the great day that dawns
and the light that fills the world.

-- Old Innuit Saying --


     I've hung on by my fingertips to the narrowest edge of hope, dangling over a bottomless abyss, unable to inch either forward or back. All I could manage in such extremity was to keep gripping that ledge with everything left in me. The only reason I'm here now to write about it--somehow, against all odds, I never let go.

     Many great blessings I could do without indefinitely if I had to: belief, approval, nurturing, security, happiness, acceptance, achievement, intimacy, even love. Lord knows, I'd be miserable. Eventually, if nothing improved, my life wouldn't even be worth living. Yet I could scrape along for quite a while--as long as I still had hope that things would change for the better. But if my hope dies, I'm done for. Despair kills.

     "Hope is the thing with feathers--That perches in the soul," wrote Emily Dickinson, "And sings the song without the words--And never stops at all." Hope's not just a positive feeling, or even a bulwark of character. It's the indomitable cry of the Spirit--a soaring testament from my Higher Self that even though caught in the teeth of the grinding gears of a seemingly implacable fate, I still have a chance. I can yet overcome, even transcend.

     Recently, I was just about to surrender an almost lifelong dream. No matter how hard I've tried, across how many struggling years, I've never been able to attain it. Now it seemed I was further away than ever. What was the point of forever banging my head against a brick wall? Time to become real, grow up, get over it. I conjured half a dozen perfectly sensible reasons to justify tuning out "that thing with feathers" perching in my soul.

     For a while, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I might actually turn into a respectable adult at last! But then, gradually, life began to lose its color and zest. I became more cynical; my existence seemed pointless, the meanings all drained dry. I found myself acting out those lines from Shakespeare's Macbeth: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time..." I'd acquired common sense, but at the price of no longer giving a damn.

     I learned a few lessons from that experience. For one--what we call "common sense" is often just a euphemism for a critical failure of imagination. For another--there's a crucial difference between pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams and authentic, indispensable hope. The third lesson I learned: my own hope must be the truly authentic and indispensable kind, because to abdicate it felt more and more like a living death.

     It can be lonely as hell to wait for a dawn that seems as if it will never break. The heart moans a thousand reasons for wanting to abandon this vigil. The mind recites its feckless litany of fear, doubt, frustration and skepticism. What am I doing here? Why do I keep hoping, despite everything? What's the point of holding on?

     But then, just when I'm about to give up, that first, luminous glimmer of light kindles on the eastern horizon. And at the same hushed moment I hear it--clear, irrepressible, sweetly heralding--the thing with feathers; the Spirit Bird that sings the song without the words, and never stops at all...


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